As dementia advances and words on a page become difficult, some may conclude that reading is no longer possible. The challenges of reading for someone with dementia are real and can be a source of great frustration. Hidden behind the frustration, however, is the desire to continue reading, and the preserved ability to do it.
Reading, as a preserved ability in dementia, can be a bridge to more independence and a greater sense of control for older adults. When one continues to read, skills are sharpened, confidence builds and participation in daily life increases. Stories for Older Adults ™ have been written to enable success for those with dementia by facilitating reading as a self-directed activity. Here’s how.
- Each story is 12 pages of text with 12 corresponding illustrations. The large-print text is predictably on the left side each time, with the full-page, color illustration on the right. This repetitive structure helps the person with dementia to know what to expect. After reading one book in the series, the person with dementia is more likely to read another, knowing with some confidence how to proceed.
- The illustrations are simple and uncluttered, and directly support the interpretation of the text. Colors are bold and contrasting for those with low vision. The illustrations allow non-readers, as well as readers, to engage visually with the story.
- There are pauses throughout the story in the form of short questions to prompt conversation and reflection, and to set a comfortable pace. The questions are optional. Some individuals may prefer to engage with the story via the questions. A question may prompt a smile or a nod or the sharing of memories. All responses, both verbal and non-verbal, are important to participation.
- Lastly, the size of the book and the weight and type of paper used have been calculated and tested to prompt easy viewing and handling.
Stories for Older Adults™ have been tested with individuals reading aloud independently, in small reading groups, and in intergenerational family settings. Here are some suggestions that can be used by care partners and family members in support of those with dementia :
- Honor the person’s interests and comfort level. A person with dementia may enjoy reading the story, or part of the story, aloud, or may want to read alone silently.
- Reading the story aloud, one-on-one, with a family member or care partner is a shared reading experience that can involve taking turns, or reading together. Engaging the individual in conversation and reminiscing, using the questions at the bottom of each page of text, extends the shared experience.
- Small reading groups bring the opportunity for socialization. Taking turns reading a page of the story gives the individual with dementia a chance to contribute to a “conversation” without the pressure of trying to think of something to say. A care partner can lead the group while participants follow the text and/or illustrations, presenting the question at the end of each page for discussion. The group leader can also be a person with dementia who feels comfortable reading. This arrangement provides a wonderful opportunity for the individual with dementia to contribute to the community by returning to a past role of helping others.
- Intergenerational family reading brings an opportunity for reminiscing and human connection at a very personal level for the individual with dementia. Stories for Older Adults™ employ intergenerational themes that appeal to all family members, including children. Older adults are enabled to participate in family story time rather than sitting on the sidelines, perhaps returning to a past role of reading to grandchildren.
In each of these examples, the dignity of the person with dementia is preserved, while the benefits of self-directed activity and social interaction are realized.