Reading for pleasure can strengthen memory in older adults

While baseball holds a special place in American hearts, reading consistently tops the list of beloved hobbies. Why? Reading offers engaging, relaxing, and social experiences.

Researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology reveal another reason to embrace reading: it may safeguard memory in aging brains, as reported in Frontiers in Psychology.

Beckman researcher Liz Stine-Morrow, also the director of the Adult Learning Lab, underscores the benefits of immersive leisure reading, which fosters mental abilities vital for comprehension.

Episodic memory, recalling past events in a book, and working memory, essential for retaining information during mental tasks, can decline with age. However, frequent readers continually hone these skills.

Stine-Morrow highlights a strong connection between working memory, language comprehension, and long-term memory. Although working memory tends to weaken with age, older adults exhibit variation.

The relationship between reading and memory begs the question: does reading enhance memory, or do robust working memory skills bolster comprehension? Determining causality has implications for memory preservation.

Stine-Morrow and her interdisciplinary team, including Beckman researchers Dr. Daniel Llano and Aron Barbey, investigated this causal link. To begin, they curated a captivating book collection in collaboration with the Champaign Public Library’s Adult Services Department.

Their selection, featuring familiar and undiscovered titles spanning various genres, was distributed to older adults in the community via iPads equipped with a custom app. Over eight weeks, participants read for 90 minutes daily, while a control group tackled word puzzles.

Apart from the “magic juice” of immersion in a story, the researchers rigorously controlled all study aspects. Participants initially assessed for cognitive skills, including working and episodic memory, were reevaluated at the study’s end.

Results were unequivocal: the book-reading group displayed significant improvements in working and episodic memory compared to the puzzle group. In essence, the study demonstrated that regular, attentive reading can fortify memory in older adults.

This discovery opens avenues for potential treatments, particularly for Alzheimer’s disease, by highlighting the benefits of engaging in enjoyable activities to preserve mental acuity.

So, keep reading with reading glasses when you get older

Future research may explore long-term reading benefits and personalized reading treatments. For now, the message is clear: to maintain mental sharpness as we age, read a book.

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