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The dawn of a new decade is a good time to take stock of how times have changed. Consider, for example, that reading was once considered dangerous and immoral, especially if it was done alone in bed. Apparently, it was feared that reading would cause people, particularly women, to escape their communal duties and responsibilities by delving into the fantasy world of books. Horrors!
Fortunately for modern society, reading is now universally known to be beneficial in numerous ways. In 1820, around the time that reading silently to oneself (as opposed to listening to oral tales) was a strange and unusual practice, only 12 percent of the world’s population could read. Today, the converse is true; about 12 percent cannot read. In fact, every five years, the number of people across the world who can read increases by about four percent.
For seniors, reading is especially advantageous. Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits:
Better Sleep. Research has shown that the blue light of TVs, phones and electronic devices is highly disruptive to sleep, and quality sleep becomes more difficult, and more important, as we age. Taking a good old-fashioned book or print media to bed, however, signals the body that it’s time to sleep without the harmful effects of blue light. Digital reading devices like Kindle and Nook are great for seniors too, as they don’t project blue light and readers can adjust type size and style to suit their vision needs.
Better Memory. A study of nearly 300 seniors found that those who engaged in reading regularly had slower rates of memory decline, by as much as 32 percent! Reading facilitates recall of daily events and strengthens the neural networks of the brain. It is also linked to helping stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Stronger Problem-Solving Skills. “Fluid intelligence,” or the ability to solve problems, declines in older age. Reading challenges the brain by improving analytical reasoning as well as decision-making in people of all ages. Seniors especially can benefit from the mental workout reading affords.
Lower Stress. Research suggests that nothing helps reduce stress chemicals in the body like a good book. A study out of the University of Sussex showed that it took only six minutes for the muscle tension and heart rate of participants to relax once they began reading an enjoyable book. Reading even beat other stress busters like listening to music and going for a walk.
Increased Social Awareness. Reading opens the mind to other perspectives, other cultures, other peoples. For seniors who might be intimidated by a formal class or lecture setting, reading allows for learning in ways that are comfortable, flexible and anxiety-free. One study out of London’s Kingston University even found that people who preferred to read over other forms of entertainment were more likely to be friendly and tolerant of different viewpoints.
Greater Social Connections. Reading clubs and book groups are more popular than ever. When people share their thoughts and opinions of a common book, whether a light beach read or a tell-all biography, they open the door to new friendships, expanded horizons, and improved communication skills. Listening, discussing and even disagreeing in a respectful manner can create personal bonds and shared experiences.
In Schaumburg, local reading groups for all types of readers abound, and the library invites adults to join in book discussions. The library also sponsors a “One Book, One Community” reading opportunity for all. This winter, they’re reading Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee. Here at Friendship Village, the word is “Read” in regular groups like book club, Reader’s Theater, Read and Reminisce, Read Aloud, and Read-a-Palooza with the Schaumburg Library. We embrace the many benefits of reading…and we won’t bat an eye if residents want to read