The benefits of reading in old age

Posted on September 6, 2019
The benefits of reading in old age
6 min read

We often hear about the benefits of reading for children, but it’s a hobby that can benefit people of any age. As the number of people reading for leisure declines, it’s a good time to remind ourselves of all the good that reading can do for us, physically, mentally and emotionally; from sleeping better and improving our memory, to alleviating anxiety and stress.

Although many things become more difficult as we age, reading doesn’t have to be one of them. Whatever your taste in reading material, the advantages it brings as we age makes it not just an enjoyable hobby, but one worth investing the time into!

Health benefits of reading

Just like regular physical exercise helps to keep our bodies fit, regular mental exercise helps to keep our brains fit. Reading throughout our lives is the best approach, however it’s never too late to start so don’t let that put you off.

Improving memory

Reading requires keeping track of characters, plots and scenarios, so already your memory is being tested. Add to that, each new memory we form works to create new synapses and strengthen existing ones, which enhances our short-term recall. This means that using our memories when reading actually helps improve our memories overall!

Improving analytical skills

‘Fluid intelligence’ refers to our ability to reason and analyse, and it declines as we age. Reading helps by testing these skills, especially if you read a lot of mysteries or stories with complex plots, or even ‘choose-your-adventure’ books! Not only is this skill handy when it comes to discussing what you’ve read with other people afterwards, but it also translates across into making decisions in everyday life.

Delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia

Mentally challenging tasks help keep the mind active by maintaining and building brain cells and their connections. This can then, in turn, help to compensate for some of the damage brought on by Alzheimer’s or dementia. Studies have shown that, although starting reading earlier is good, even reading once we reach old age can help slow down cognitive decline.

Improving your sleep

Reading before going to bed is a great way to improve how you sleep; it encourages your brain to send out certain signals that promote relaxation, and doing it every night will train your brain into knowing that it’s bedtime. Make sure to stick to traditional books however, as electronic devices have been found to actually keep your brain awake and active for longer.

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Emotional and mental health benefits

We’ve covered how reading can help with your health, but how about your general wellbeing? Reading gives you the chance to escape from life for a while and engage your mind in a different way, which is important for your mental and emotional health.

Reducing stress and combating anxiety

Stress contributes to a number of negative factors in our lives, including poor sleep and habits like smoking. A study by the University of Sussex found that reading for only six minutes reduced the stress of their participants by 68%; more than going for a walk, listening to music or having a cup of tea. Reading can lower blood pressure and heart rate while easing muscle tension, and tends to make people more thoughtful and less likely to make impulsive decisions, which all helps to alleviate anxiety. Mentally working through a fictional person’s problems can help negate some of the stress around your own.

Boosting happiness and increasing empathy

Reading is known to boost your empathy and increase your emotional intelligence. Reading through someone else’s experiences, whether they are real or not, helps us gain perspective about the world around us, and also about ourselves. This increase in empathy, not just for other people but for ourselves, can lead to us judging things less harshly and generally feeling happier about things in life. In a study, adults who read for merely 30 minutes a week reported feeling 20% more satisfied with their lives than those who did not.

Keeping us connected

Reading can give you a great opportunity to connect with other people. Sharing the things that we enjoy with others is a good way to boost our confidence and our happiness, especially if you’re inclined to spend time alone at home. Making and maintaining friendships can help reduce some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and combat depression brought on by loneliness, and local libraries or book clubs are a great way of staying engaged with other people.

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Keeping reading

Sometimes it can be hard to sit down with a book, especially when we feel we have “more important” things to be doing. But, as we have shown, reading is just as important as chores! To make this easier, we have a few tips.

One of the most important tips (especially if you don’t tend to read a lot normally) is to read things you enjoy. Yes, Lord of the Rings is a classic, but if looking at the length of it fills you with dread, then don’t do it! No matter if you’re a fan of magazines, pulpy romance or cheesy sci-fi, reading for fun is much easier when it is just that – fun.

Another trick is to schedule reading time, or use it as a quick break from other things. As stated earlier in the article, you only need to read for six minutes to reduce your stress levels, so maybe get a few pages in while dinner is cooking, or take time before going to sleep to finish that chapter. Once you get into the habit, you’ll find it becomes second nature.

Another good way to make sure that you get reading is to share the experience with other people. There are a few different options for this; the most immediate one for a lot of people is reading with children. It benefits them too, and is a great way of connecting with family friends or grandchildren.

Alternatively, libraries can be great for this. Not only is it always free to join a library, giving you access to hundreds of different books and expert knowledge on what’s available, but it’s also a great place for meeting other readers. Some libraries run book clubs, or you can check social group websites like MeetUp to see if there is anything running local. If you can’t find anything, then why not start your own! Libraries are always keen to get regular visitors, so talk to them and see if you can hold your new club there. You might be surprised at the interest it garners!

Useful products for reading

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Reading can get harder as we age, especially if we’re losing our eyesight, but there are a number of useful products out there that can help.

Adaptive methods can include large print books but, when these aren’t available, you can also look at other options, such as book holders, reading lights to help avoid eye strain, and reading magnifiers that range from small to large and include some hands-free options.

E-readers can be a great support when holding heavy books or turning pages becomes difficult, and the majority of them now come with back-lit screens and adjustable font sizes. E-books can also often be a bit easier to get – your local library may well stock them, or you can get them online delivered straight to your e-reader!

Finally, audiobooks are a great alternative to physical books – and don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t really reading! You may not be literally looking at the words on the page, but you are still enjoying books, in a way that can be beneficial for those with bad eyesight or arthritis. Audible has a monthly subscription fee that provides you with credits that you can then “spend” on books (or you can buy the audiobooks outright), and has an amazing range of titles. They also often offer free trials, so it’s definitely worth trying out!


At SuperCarers, we can help you find the right home care for you. We listen to your needs and match you with experienced carers in your local area. Give us a call on 020 8629 1030 to talk to one of our care experts.

You may also be interested in our blog about memory tips to keep your mind sharp.

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