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The Benefits of Reading

Posted by Karen Thompson on

We often hear the benefits of reading for children and how it helps in their development, gain new knowledge, exercise their brains, improve vocabulary, and boost their imagination. However, do similar effects occur for older adults, particularly persons living with dementia?

Unfortunately, there is still no cure for dementia. Many individuals rely on pharmacological intervention that often have side effects or medications wear off over time. Many researchers are now looking for non-pharmacological interventions to help improve the quality of life for persons with dementia and better support them along their journey. In fact, books have also been used in the healthcare system for people with mental illnesses, as doctors prescribe books instead of medication or alongside a medical prescription (Furness & Casselden, 2012). That being said, why not implement the same prescription for people living with dementia? 

Many research is being done in the dementia field, and some researchers are starting to highlight the effects that reading might have on persons living with dementia. Researchers have looked into the effects that shared reading groups have on people with dementia. Similar to musical therapy, shared reading groups offer the opportunity for persons living with dementia to engage with books through a shared reading circle.

The results so far have been impactful. Researchers have found that reading has enhanced individual’s well-being. Shared reading groups improve quality of life for people living with dementia and also provide value for care partners and care providers as this offers them another opportunity for recreation (either solely for their loved one or for engagement with one another) (Longden, Davis, Carroll, Billington, & Kinderman, 2016). Researchers also found that both short and long-term memory was positively affected by shared reading groups. Individuals’ listening skills improved, their conversational abilities and social skills improved, and they developed new relationships with others as they were introduced to new people and experienced an improvement in their existing relationships (Billington, Carroll, Davis, Healey, & Kinderman, 2013; Longden et al., 2016). Lastly, reading is like “exercise” for your brain. It has been found that reading can help improve your brain health as you age (Wilson et al., 2013).

“Read more books, write more, and do activities that keep your brain busy irrespective of your age” (Vemuri & Mormino, 2013).

Further, results identify that reading, whether done independently or in a group, helps to bring up past memories, share stories with others, is an enjoyable experience, and provides individuals with a sense of personal identity, that is often lost or impacted due to a dementia diagnosis (Billington et al., 2013). Reading independently can also promote that sense of independence that is lost as well. It provides individuals with a way to engage in an activity that they’ve participated in for years and continue to read independently.

Reading, in general, has also been proven to offer a variety of benefits for people living with dementia such as:

  • Helps to reduce stress
  • Improve sleep
  • Improve mood
  • Reduce behaviours and agitation associated with dementia (Billington et al., 2013; Gardiner, Furois, Tansley, & Morgan, 2000; Latchem & Greenhalgh, 2014).
  • Improve levels of engagement and responses (Latchem & Greenhalgh, 2014).
  • Provide a form of cognitive stimulation

While these findings and recommendation work for most people living with dementia, they do not apply to everyone. Researchers have found that although persons with advanced dementia are able to engage with reading material that is accessible, very little research has been carried out to explore literature-based strategies within dementia care (Prince, Bryce, & Ferri, 2011). There is still a need for more research to be done on reading and dementia across the journey. Turning to non-pharmacological interventions help to improve quality of life, reduce social isolation, and maintain involvement in the community.

No matter what your age, continue reading and exercising your brain, while having fun!

How often do you read? Share in the comments below! 



Billington, J., Carroll, J., Davis, P., Healey, C., & Kinderman, P. (2013). A literature-based intervention for older people living with dementia. Perspective in Public Health, 133(3). Doi:10.1177/1757913912470052

Furness, R., & Casselden, B. (2012). An evaluation of a books on prescription scheme in a UK public library authority. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 29(4), 333-337. doi:10.1111/hir.12000

Gardiner, J. C., Fuoris, M., Tansley, D. P., Morgan, B. (2000). Music Therapy and Reading as Intervention Strategies for Disruptive Behavior in Dementia. Clinical Gerontologist,22(1), 31-46, DOI: 10.1300/J018v22n01_04

Latchem, J. M., Greenhalgh, J. (2014). The role of reading on the health and well-being of people with neurological conditions: A systematic review. Aging & Mental Health, 18(6), 731-744. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2013.875125

Longden, E., Davis, P., Carroll, J., Billington, J., & Kinderman, P. (2016). An evaluation of shared reading groups for adults living with dementia: Preliminary findings. Journal of Public Mental Health, 15(2), 75-82. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy.lib.uwaterloo.ca/10.1108/JPMH-06-2015-0023

Prince, M., Bryce, R., & Ferri, C. (2011). World Alzheimer’s Report 2011: The benefits of early diagnosis and intervention. Alzheimer’s Disease International. Retrieved from https://www.alz.co.uk/research/WorldAlzheimerReport2011.pdf

Wilson, R. S., Boyle, P. A., Yu, L., Barnes, L. L., Schneider, J. A., Bennett, D.A. (2013). Life-span cognitive activity, neuropathologic burden, and cognitive aging. Neurology, 81(4), 314-321. Doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e31829c5e8a

Vemuri, P., & Mormino, E. (2013). Cognitively stimulating activities to keep dementia at bay. Neuology, 81(4), 308-309. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e31829c5f05

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