Regular recreational reading by seniors can strengthen their memory, according to a new US study. After eight weeks of regular reading in older people, there was a significant improvement in both working memory and episodic memory.
The link between reading and memory has been known for some time, but it is unclear whether reading itself improves memory or whether a strong memory improves reading ability. A study at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois looked at the link between reading and memory in older people.
People aged 60 to 79 were divided into two groups, one that read and a control group that would do puzzles instead. The participants were asked to read 90 minutes a day, five days a week for eight weeks. They all had access to the same collection of books, ranging from non-fiction to crime fiction. The books were selected in collaboration with the Champaign Public Library and the idea was that participants could find books to read for pleasure.
Before starting to read, all participants took various cognitive tests including working memory and episodic memory as well as speech and reading skills. The same tests were done at the end of the study.
Compared to the puzzle group, the reader group showed significant improvements in both working memory and episodic memory. The study thus shows that regular recreational reading can improve memory in older people.
– Pleasure reading, the kind that really draws you in, is good for you, and it helps to build the mental skills that you use when reading, says researcher Liz Stine-Morrow.
Although more research is needed, the study could open up new treatments for conditions such as Alzheimer’s. Stine-Morrow suggests that reading for pleasure, really engaging with something fully, can help maintain mental capacity.
– It is more promising to fully engage in the stimulating things that we already do in our lives. This is probably the best way to maintain our mental capacity and offset the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, says Stine-Morrow.