Seniors who read often enjoy much more than just a good story. Scientific studies have found many benefits of reading for older adults, from reducing stress and enhancing sleep to improving memory circuits, sharpening decision-making and possibly even delaying the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. These top five benefits demonstrate why good senior reading habits help preserve mental faculties, enabling people to live independently longer.
1. Enhancing Memory
A study of 294 seniors published in Neurology found that those who engaged in mentally simulating activities such as reading across their life-span had slower rates of memory decline compared to those who did not. Engaging in frequent cognitive activity later in life reduced the rate of decline by 32 percent. Reading exercises your memory, which is critical to the short-term recall of everyday events. Regular mental workouts through reading can strengthen the brain’s neural network, helping your mind become more receptive to learning and memory retention.
2. Sharpening Decision-Making Skills
Reading can improve the analytical and reasoning power seniors need to solve problems, an ability known as fluid intelligence that declines throughout adulthood. A major study of Americans ages 25 to 74 found that, regardless of age, those who routinely did more to challenge their brains through such activities as reading did better on fluid intelligence tests than their counterparts.
3. Delaying Onset of Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Additional research determined that adults in their 70s who engaged in mentally intense hobbies, such as reading, from ages 20 to 60 are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. In an article published by USA TODAY, Dr. Zaven Khachaturian, senior science adviser to the Alzheimer’s Association, says that brain-challenging activities build a reserve of neuronal connections, making it take longer for the Alzheimer’s process to destroy enough neurons for symptoms to emerge. Another study of participants from the Rush University Aging and Memory Project found that more frequent mental activities, including reading, help preserve brain structures important to cognition in late life.
4. Reducing Stress
When it comes to unwinding, getting lost in a good book beats listening to music, having a cup of coffee, or going for a walk, according to research conducted at Mindlab International at the University of Sussex. It only took six minutes for the heart rate and muscle tension of participants to relax once they dove into a book.
5. Sleeping Better
Reading in bed has long been considered a surefire way to fall asleep. The Mayo Clinic confirms this, stating that creating a bedtime ritual, such as reading, signals the body that it’s time for sleep. This activity induces shut-eye better than falling asleep in front of a television screen or other electronic device, which has been proven to keep people awake longer or even disrupt their rest.
As people age, they might tend to read less and turn on the TV instead. Given the proven health benefits of reading, however, you may want to consider trading in the remote for a good book instead.