How reading can improve and prevent Alzheimer’s

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It’s often said that reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. It’s a favorite pastime for many and has several cognitive benefits, including perhaps a favorable impact on Alzheimer’s disease. According to a recent study, reading may lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, an illness affecting that more than five and a half million Americans over the age of 55. The onset of Alzheimer’s disease can sometimes take up to 10 years, with the brain beginning to gradually decline long before symptoms are present. 

Although lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise have been known to play a role in preventing or limiting the impact of the disease, a recent study showed that reading, writing and participating in other mentally stimulating activities, can benefit people by helping them retain memory and thinking skills. The more one exercises the brain, the lower the risk of cognitive degeneration and decline.

How reading slows mental decline

A major component of the brain that is correlated with both learning and Alzheimer’s disease is cognitive reserve, which refers to the mind’s resistance to damage and the storage of information. Having a strong cognitive reserve allows your brain to function, and cope with changes. The most commonly used parts of the cognitive reserve are education and cognitively complex occupations. According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, lifetime exposures to educational and occupational achievement can increase the cognitive reserve and reduce the risk of dementia.

Reading is a task that we learn during our childhood developmental years and the frequency of it may slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. If we think back to childhood, we are given tests in school based on material we read. It is our ability to recall information that shows our understanding of the subject. In the Rush University study, 300 aging adults were tested over the course of six years, answering questions about their reading abilities and writing habits starting from childhood. After the death of each adult in the study, at the average age of 89, autopsies showed that those who were avid readers experienced 30% less memory loss and had the least physical signs of dementia. Reading essentially lowered the risk and onset of dementia in those who participated in the study.

It’s never too late to start reading

Reading may be difficult for those already suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, because it requires the use of short-term memory. It will be a challenge to retain and interpret information, character development and plot advances. However, reading aloud with a group or caregiver can have healing qualities. Descriptive text in a book can help someone to visualize things in more detail, whereas a fiction novel may help bring back memories of another time in that person’s life. Reading can provide caregivers a shared activity and new way to connect with their loved one.

While reading isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s, nor is it a treatment, taking it up at even an older age may help prevent or delay the onset of the disease. It doesn’t matter what type of content you read, whether it’s a magazine or novel, it’s simply important to incorporate reading into your lifestyle.