A study by Yale found that regular readers enjoyed a longer lifespan of up to two years.
The research did not specify how reading books (the benefits applied only to books, not magazines or newspapers) helped increase longevity.
But experts think it comes down to cognitive benefits that readers enjoy including less stress, slower brain cell degeneration and improved brain activity.
The elderly, who have more time on their hands, can enjoy bigger benefits by spending more than the recommended daily half hour reading.
How does reading help the elderly
Whether they do it alone at home, at a care home, in a senior centre or in a book club, here’s how reading helps the elderly.
1. Improved Mental Health
This is the biggest benefit. In fact, all the other we’ll mention generally fall under this one.
The elderly are at risk of numerous mental health issues including dementia, memory loss, anxiety and depression.
Reading improves their mental health, keeping their brains sharp and active.
It’s especially helpful for seniors who may not have many socializing opportunities and those who are not able to engage in hobbies.
Instead of getting bored watching TV, reading is an excellent pastime.
2. Reduced Stress and Anxiety
Ill health, loneliness, feelings of inadequacy and financial problems are common factors behind high stress levels in seniors.
For most people, a good book is an escape from life’s challenges. It’s the same with seniors.
By thinking less about their problems, reading reduces stress and anxiety levels. This can also prevent the onset of clinical depression.
3. Improved Memory and Brain Activity
Reading does things to the brain that no other activity can.
Various studies have found that regular reading improves the brain connectivity, makes one more empathetic and improves language.
It also improves memory, the loss of which is a problem for many seniors.
4. Slower Cognitive Decline
Several studies have shown a link between frequent reading and slower cognitive decline. Seniors who read a lot experience a delayed onset of conditions like Alzheimer’s.
They also retain their sharp memory and thinking for longer.
Those who enjoy the slowest decline are those who start reading earlier. Don’t wait until you are 70 or 80. Even 60 is a great age to start reading.
5. Improved Sleep Quality
For seniors who are struggling with insomnia or restlessness at night, having a bedtime routine centred around reading can improve sleep quality.
For one, it’s a more relaxing activity than watching the news.
It also limits screen time, which should help you fall asleep faster.
The stress and anxiety-lowering effect of reading can also help you fight insomnia.
How to start reading
If you are not a voracious reader or maybe not a reader at all, it’s easy to start. Here are some simple tips.
- Look for a book that you’ll enjoy. It can be fiction or non-fiction. You may have to try several books before finding your favourite genre and authors.
- Set aside at least half an hour every day to read. Keep it at the same time every day to make sure you always make time for it. If you have more time, you can read for an hour or two. It doesn’t have to be continuous. It can be half an hour in the morning, another half hour in the afternoon and maybe 10 minutes of reading before bed with your reading lamp.
- If your family member cannot read for one reason or another such as poor eyesight, reading to them is also beneficial. Just make sure you pick a book they’ll enjoy.