Reading can have many benefits for seniors. Learning for older people in care settings can be an open door to the acquisition of new knowledge and communication skills. It can also help in the maintenance of mental and cognitive skills.
This year, International Literacy Day will be celebrated across the world under the theme of ‘Literacy in a digital world’. On 8 September 2017 a global event will be organized at UNESCO’s Headquarters in Paris, with the overall aim to look at what kind of literacy skills people need to navigate increasingly digitally-mediated societies. The event also sets out to explore effective literacy policies and programs that can leverage the opportunities that the digital world provides. Care providers, Schools and other sectors all over the world are encouraged to consider how they can improve the reading skills of individuals they care for.
Your care home can take the opportunity on this day to encourage seniors to read and explore literacy. The activity of reading has proven to provide a large number of benefits for seniors.
What are the benefits of encouraging seniors to read?
Reading can play a role in helping seniors to continue living a happy and healthy life as they continue to get older. Research published by the centre for research into reading, literature, and society at the University of Liverpool has found that while any reading helps sharpen the minds of older people, shared reading in groups offers particular benefits. Almost 90% of participants reported uplifted mood, better concentration and better long- and short-term memory. As seniors begin to read, they can build upon and expand areas and depth of knowledge, promote wellness and care for their mental health, improve their critical thinking abilities and work to ward off memory loss. Recent scientific studies have found many benefits of reading. The following are some reasons why reading is especially beneficial for seniors and their well-being:
- Improving and Expanding Vocabulary
Having the capacity to speak articulately can be empowering for seniors. Learning a new skill such as pronouncing and spelling new words can increase brain activity and provide individuals with a hobby that can prevent boredom. Engaging and stimulating the brain is crucial for maintaining brain fitness and keeping the mind strong. Reading acts as a form of exercise for the brain that helps to keep it stimulated and healthy. Reading new material can expose seniors to new words and uses of language that they can integrate into their everyday lives and provide them with motivation to socialize more often.
- Reducing levels of stress
A recent study that looked at the effect of reading on seniors found that it took as little as six minutes for the heart rate and muscle tension of participants to relax once they started to read a book they had shown interest in. When it comes to unwinding and relaxing, getting lost in a book can be more effective than going for a walk or even listening to music.
- Improving Critical Thinking Skills
Acquiring critical thinking skills means individuals are more able to make intelligent judgments. A core set of critical thinking skills includes the following:
- Suspending judgment to check the validity of a proposition or action
- Taking into consideration multiple perspectives
- Examining implications and consequences of a belief or action
- Using reason and evidence to resolve disagreements
- Re-evaluating a point of view in light of new information
Reading often requires the piecing together of various bits and pieces of information to create an understanding of the overall picture of the story or article. This means that there is a notable amount of critical thinking involved. The exercising of these critical thinking skills through reading strengthens them so that seniors are better equipped to solve problems and connect pieces of information in their daily lives.
- Improving Memory
A lot of memory is involved in reading, as it requires you to remember ever-evolving plots, characters, settings, and past events of a story. Every time a memory is made, new pathways are created in the brain while old ones are also strengthened. Reading books can, therefore, play a role in bettering memory for seniors.
- Sleeping Better
Reading in bed has been considered an effective way to fall asleep for a long time. The activity of reading induces shut-eye more effectively than falling asleep in front of a television screen or another electronic device, which has been proven to keep people awake for longer
- Increasing Understanding
Reading can help seniors to feel more connected to other people’s stories, the world around them, and the events that take place within the world. This is particularly useful for seniors with Dementia who can often struggle to feel connected to the people and things around them. Through reading, seniors can gain a better degree of understanding regarding things that they may not have dealt with or experienced within their own lives. This can help them to better relate to people from different backgrounds, as well as to the greater sociocultural context.
How can your Care Home encourage seniors to read?
There are endless ways you can get the residents in your care home to read more. A good idea is to reserve a space in your care home for a selection of books for those who are interested to easily access. Anchor Housing, which runs Mayflower Court, and is England’s largest not-for-profit provider of housing and care for older people, has been encouraging residents to read books for more than a decade. Mayflower Court residential care home in Southampton contains a large selection of novels to encourage seniors to read more. A long wall of the modern building is covered in bookshelves containing a diverse selection of titles. The care home’s library is particularly useful for a senior woman who clearly enjoys contemporary biographies and thoughtful non-fiction as well as novels. The well-read woman in the care home now acquires in depth knowledge of subjects from ancient history to contemporary sexual politics. Almost 90% of residents in the care home who have begun reading reported uplifted mood, better concentration and better long- and short-term memory as a result. Nicola Toomer, a manager at the home states, “the library is a fantastic communal area, which is well used. Reading encourages residents to use their imagination and also provides a point of discussion – something retirees can feel they have lost.”
A growing number of care homes are also discovering that reading groups can transform the lives of their residents, including those with Dementia. Your care home could, therefore, propose the idea of a weekly reading group for individuals who are interested in expanding their knowledge and socializing over books. Residents at Mayflower Court are able to join a reading group which meets every Tuesday morning in the library. This not only provides them with the chance to expand their knowledge but also gives them the opportunity to socialize and communicate. As well as providing clients with resources in a library and reading group, it is also vital to get to know the seniors in your care home so you can learn about what books would interest them. This means you are treating residents as individuals with different interests and passions, which will help to make them feel valued and more likely to participate in activities.