Reading for entertainment enhances memory in the elderly

Reading for entertainment enhances memory in the elderly

From left: Shuk Han Ng, research data manager; Giavanna McCall, PhD student in educational psychology; Ilber Manavbasi, a research officer; and Liz Stine-Morrow, Professor Emeritus of Educational Psychology. Credit: Beckman Institute Communications Office.

Baseball may be Americans’ favorite pastime, but in the rankings of the most popular hobbies, reading consistently ranks higher. It’s not hard to see why: reading is both engaging and relaxing, and it’s fun to read alone and with friends.

A team of researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology have discovered another reason to love reading: it can help preserve memorization skills as people — and their brains — age. Their work is reported in Borders in Psychology.

Beckman researcher Liz Stine-Morrow, and director of the Adult Learning Lab, said: “Entertainment reading, the genre that really engages you, is great for you and it helps. building the mental abilities on which reading depends”. Lecturer in the Department of Educational Psychology, and senior investigator of the study.

One of these mental ability is the episode memory, or memory of events, allows us to recall what happened in previous chapters of a book and make sense of the unfolding story. Another possibility is working memory, the ability to keep things in our minds as we engage in other mental processes. Working memory helps us keep track of what happened in recent passages as we continue reading.

Both episodic and working memory tend to decline as we age, but habitual readers frequently practice these skills in different contexts.

“There’s pretty convincing literature that there’s a relationship between working memory and language comprehension and long-term memory. Working memory seems to decline with age, but there’s a lot of variation. , especially among people Elderly“, Stine-Morrow said.

One mystery surrounding the relationship between reading and memory is whether reading improves memory or whether working memory improves reading comprehension skills. Knowing the direction of causality will have important implications for the kinds of treatments that preserve memory throughout a person’s life.

Stine-Morrow and the interdisciplinary team, which included Beckman researchers, Dr. Daniel Llano, professor of molecular and integrative physiology, and Aron Barbey, professor of psychology, conducted a study to test cause and effect between reading and memorizing. To get started, they needed an interesting and engaging collection of books—the kind that really appeal to you—and decided to contact the experts at the Champaign Public Library Adult Literacy Service.

“We don’t just rely on popularity,” said Kristina Hoerner, the library’s adult services manager at the time of the study. “We wanted to make sure that this list contained both familiar titles and books that participants might not have discovered on their own. The list also contained a wide range of genres from non-fiction to mystery to fiction. literary theory is more complex.”

The research team distributed these books to the participating elders local community through an iPad loaned out for the duration of the study. The iPads also come pre-installed with a custom app that allows participants to track their reading progress and answer additional questions. Participants read for 90 minutes a day, five days a week, for eight weeks. A separate positive control group completed word puzzles on their iPads instead of reading while tracking their progress using the same custom app.

“We had as much control as we could between activities except for the ‘magic juice,’” says Stine-Morrow, “which is immersed in a story.”

At the start of the study, participants went to the Adult Learning Lab at the Beckman Institute, where they were assessed on various cognitive skills, including short-term memory and working ability, as well as other reading and speaking skills. They were retested for these skills at the end of the eighth week.

The results were indisputable: compared with the puzzle group, the eight-week reading group showed significant improvements in working memory and remember the segment. In other words, research has proven that regular, active reading strengthens the memory skills of older adults.

The causal link between reading and memory opens up several new avenues for future treatments for conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

“There’s more promise in engaging fully in the stimulating things we already do in our lives,” Stine-Morrow said. That’s probably the best route to maintaining their mental capacity. and offset the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Future work may explore the long-term benefits of reading or the ability to tailor reading to an individual’s personal preference for books.

For now, however, the message is clear. How can we maintain mental clarity as we age? Read the book.

The publication titled “Impact of maintaining literacy on cognition and sentence processing in older adults” is available online at

More information:
Elizabeth AL Stine-Morrow et al., Effect of participation in long-term literacy maintenance on cognition and sentence processing in older adults, Borders in Psychology (2022). DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.923795

quote: Recreational reading enhances memory in older adults (2022, December 6) retrieved December 6, 2022 from -adults.html

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