How Books Can Help People with Dementia
Research shows that reading can help prevent dementia. People who regularly participate in intellectual activities such as reading books, playing board games, or learning new skills have a lower dementia risk.
A core feature of dementia is a decline in cognitive ability, with memory loss and a deterioration in speech and language abilities as the most prevalent symptoms. This decline gets worse over time until it gets in the way of a person’s daily life.
Challenging your brain with cognitive activities throughout life can promote brain plasticity and flexibility, helping you build up a “cognitive reserve.” In turn, your cognitive reserve can help maintain normal cognitive function and possibly avoid memory loss and dementia.
How Books Can Aid in the Prevention of Dementia
Many people like to spend their free time reading. However, books are not just a relaxing pastime. Research suggests that a regular habit of reading, for example, can improve memory or reduce its decline in old age. In addition, several studies have found that reading throughout your life helps protect your brain function as you get older, no matter your education level or social status.[i]
But how can books help prevent or reduce cognitive decline and dementia?
Audiobooks have grown in popularity as technology has advanced. But does listening to a book have the same effect as reading one?
Reading Provides Cognitive Stimulation
Your brain, like your body, needs regular exercise to stay healthy and alert. Reading is a powerful form of brain training that lurches your brain into action. It can help your memory because it makes you use different parts of your brain, like the cerebellum, temporal lobes, frontal lobes, parietal lobes, and occipital lobes.
In other words, reading involves a lot of different brain functions, such as focus, imagination, the ability to process what you see and hear, cognitive processing, phonemic awareness, memory, and more.
Reading Promotes Stress Relief
Reading a book benefits your emotional health by relieving stress and tension. In addition, reading can help you deal with mental illness, improve your empathy, and increase your self-awareness.
Reading Books Can Improve Mental Health
A daily habit of reading books can help reduce anxiety and depression symptoms by distracting you from negative thoughts and feelings and improving your sleep. In addition, it enables you to focus on the here and now, allowing you to wind down and slow your pace.
Experts in mental health have seen that reading can improve mental health, so reading has been used as therapy in the last few decades.
A bibliotherapy is a form of art therapy that uses books to help people with anxiety, depression, or grief. It can be used alone or with other types of treatment.[i]
Reading Helps Keep the Brain Active
Listening vs. Reading: How Audiobooks Compare to Reading
Does listening to a book provide the same cognitive benefits as reading? Many aging people struggle with declining vision or other conditions that make reading difficult. So, audiobooks can be an excellent alternative to reading paper books or those on e-Readers.
Audiobooks Can Help You Train Your Brain
Audiobooks can stimulate the brain in the same way as paper books do, improving cognitive abilities and helping prevent dementia. Listening to a book activates the brain in the same way that is reading a paper or e-book does. Both situations require your brain to process data necessary for understanding a story.
But there are differences in how the brain processes this information because the brain is activated differently when processing speech versus print. So, while reading involves the left brain, understanding what you hear activates both hemispheres.
Audiobooks Can Help with Mental Illness
Audiobooks can also help reduce stress, control mood swings and irritability, and ease the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
One study found that listening to audiobooks can improve the mental health of elderly adults. Aging persons who participated in audiobook sessions experienced improvements in symptoms related to anxiety, depression, aggression, phobias, and other mental health concerns.[i]
Overall, reading and listening to a book stimulate the brain differently, but both use several parts of the brain, improving mental health and cognitive performance.
By stimulating your brain and keeping it active, reading and listening to audiobooks can slow down Alzheimer’s and other dementias, allowing the brain to retain its capacity and plasticity.