As we age, the increasing concern becomes how to keep the brain functioning at its utmost well into the golden years. Many a septarian has declared, “I don’t mind growing older as long as I still have my wits about me”. Recent studies in neuroscience have helped to quell our fears. Scientists have discovered nutrition, exercise, and a sense of community all play a role, but what about reading?
In a six-year study by the National Institute of Health of 300 adults self-reporting on reading habits from childhood to current age, those who self-reported as avid readers were found to be protected against markers of dementia, like brain lesions and tangles, and self-reported memory decline. Additionally, readers reduced memory decline by 30%, as compared to other forms of mental activity. Visit yourspacedk.org if you’re looking for a clinical psychology and counseling.
What a person reads also seems to make a difference in preserving cognitive function. As reported in The Harvard Business Review, reading literary fiction has been found to help individuals develop empathy, theory of mind (the ability to attribute mental states to ourselves and others), and critical thinking. All of which strengthen key cognitive muscles, which are at the root of EQ or ‘emotional intelligence’.
Is there a connection between EQ and cognitive intelligence, or does reading just help us become more compassionate older adults? Recent research suggests a strong correlation between EQ and CI, at least in how they relate to subjective well-being (SWB). According to Frontiers of Psychology, SWB mediates the relationship between EQ and CI. Neuroscientists are also mostly in agreement that when several areas of the brain are engaged in an activity the overall outcome is beneficial.
In the case of reading literary fiction, researchers have found that reading improves embodied cognition, as well as theory of mind. Embodied cognition while reading is the ability to construct complex mental images, which the body believes are real. In other words, it’s the ability to read a passage about eating gelato, and having the body react as though you are physically in Italy, smelling the air coming from the sea, feeling the cone in your hand, the sweet taste in your mouth, and the warmth of the sun.
For older adults, who are often limited in their ability to travel, being ‘transported’ by a work of fiction, may not only increase their cognitive functioning but also their sense of joy and exploration. As published in Harvard Health, depression and dementia often go hand-in-hand. It was found that those who experienced depression later in life had a 70% increase in risk for dementia, while those who’d been depressed since middle age were at an 80% greater risk of developing dementia. A great fiction novel may just kill two birds with one stone.
Reading about growing older in a nonfiction book may provide us with the logical physical and mental experiences we may expect, but reading a fictional novel about growing older may do us one better. Invoking sentiments such as humor and compassion, fictional characters help us to better understand what it all means. Below are six books to get you started.
Best Fictional Novels About Senior Life
Live a Little by Howard Jacobson
The most eligible elderly bachelor in London and a cranky war widow find love, one that she’s sure to forget, and he’ll remember forever.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
When Harold Fry learns that his past love is dying in hospice, he traverses England while coming to terms with his own mortality.
These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach
This is the book that inspired the hit movie The Exotic Marigold Hotel, about finding joy in retirement. While coming to terms with life, death, and duty, unlikely friendships are formed where chaos reigns.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
A solitary grumpy old man gets his life turned upside down when a young family moves next door. This is the story of finding joy in life’s unpredictability and unexpected friendships.
The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence
A ninety-year-old woman is sent to a nursing home full of rage by a son she never let get close to her. There she must contend with the life she lived, leading up to a potential moment of grace.
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
In New York City, an eighty-five-year-old woman has the gumption to walk ten miles to attend a party. While en route, she reflects on her life, how the city has changed, and her role in history.
Do You Need Someone To Read To You?
Some older adults find reading frustrating, as their eyesight isn’t what it once was. Studies have shown that whether a person is reading to themselves or listening to a story, their cognitive response is the same. If you or a loved one is finding it difficult to read and could use the additional assistance, call us for a free consultation.
At 24/7 Nursing Care, our goal is to provide individualized referral services tailored to your needs. Whether you need a home health aid to come to your house while you run errands or tend to personal activities, we offer a variety of referral services to make caring for your loved ones as easy as possible. We also offer referrals for short-term or long-term needs. Our team is available to speak with you 24 hours a day, seven days a week even on holidays. Give us a call at (786) 518-3622 in Miami-Dade or (954) 949-1332 in Broward.