Reading2Connect® — Next Best Home
New Ways to Bring Joy to People Living with Dementia
When thinking about where they would like a loved one with dementia to live, most people look for someplace where that person will be happy and find joy in their life. For housing and care providers, it is an increasing priority to offer seniors more opportunities for fun, for community, and for a sense of purpose in order to differentiate themselves and attract new residents. A compelling body of research has resulted in many long-term care providers integrating some sort of music into their schedule of activities, but far fewer have found ways to add special reading programs. Like music, reading is another universal human pastime that stirs the hearts, minds, and souls of people across the globe. When done well, specialized reading programs can greatly enrich the lives and relationships of people living with dementia.
Can People Living with Dementia Read?
As a person’s short-term memory fades, reading most types of materials becomes difficult, and even formerly avid readers typically stop reading. Research has shown that people living with even mid-to-late-stage dementia often retain the capacity to read. Unfortunately, people in the early stages of dementia stop reading the books, newspapers, and magazines that are typically available to them. The good news is that the right type of adapted reading materials can enable them to enjoy reading for much longer and in socially beneficial ways.
Susan Ostrowski pioneered the creation of reading materials appropriate for people at any stage of dementia. She researched the barriers to reading that people with dementia experience, and she closely observed many people attempting to read, carefully noting their eye gaze and finger tracking. Ostrowski then experimented with typeface, syntax, graphic layout, and even paper to create a mix of content and format that enables people with dementia to read independently, and—to her delight—to even discuss what they read with others.
Ostrowski and a multi-disciplinary team, founded Reading2Connect®, an organization dedicated to reviving the joy of reading for people living with dementia. Based on extensive and ongoing field study, Reading2Connect® produces highly readable, age/dementia friendly books that compensate for the memory, visual, attention, and physical limitations that many senior care residents are experiencing.
Ostrowski embraced the fascinating challenge of writing for this readership: creating highly accessible material that retains the integrity of adult literature and respects the rich personal histories of this population. Following the feedback and lead of older adults, Reading2Connect® has produced a large collection of books, ranging from popular topics (such as pets, travel, and sports), to more culturally specific topics (like Judaism, civil rights, the Japanese internment, and gay rights).
This 3-minute video shares the story and impact of Reading2Connect®
Click to view the video.
The Many Benefits of Reading for Seniors Experiencing Cognitive Decline
While affirming that reading is a fulfilling, engaging activity, Reading2Connect® also argues that books become more important to us as we age. As our minds, our bodies, and our ability to express ourselves becomes compromised, reading (fiction or nonfiction) keeps us learning and connects us to the past. Books also enable us to travel outside of our physical space. Furthermore, the adapted reading experience is refreshingly autonomous. The reader decides how fast/slow to read, when to pause and think, when to re-read, when to contemplate an illustration, and when to share with others.
While spoken words are gone in a flash, text is patient and always accessible. Aging adults can absorb written language at their own pace, allowing time for comprehension and for connecting their personal experiences to the text. Accessible text and clear, evocative images provide a steady, supportive framework for aging adults to organize their thoughts, insights, and opinions. By providing vocabulary and reference points, high-quality, specialized books enable people living with dementia to engage their minds in original, personal ways. Kindled by a book, long-term care residents share unique stories, areas of expertise, and prior knowledge.
These adapted books in combination with a skilled approach by team members and care partners, facilitate residents connecting with each other in authentic, spontaneous ways. They take turns reading aloud, commenting on the illustrations, helping each other find the right page, and sharing memories – frequently laughing.
Communication and retaining social relationships are difficult for people living with dementia. Enabling residents to lean on the support of high quality, adapted books to emotionally connect with their peers is a powerful way to honor their lives, to abate feelings of loneliness, and to give them back their voice.
In the October 27th Time with Teepa episode, renowned dementia expert, Teepa Snow, discusses the value of specialized reading materials. Click to watch the recording.
As Teepa mentioned in the recording, a webinar, entitled Unlocking the Transformational Power of READING for People Living with Dementia, will be taking place November 8th. In this webinar, Teepa Snow and a panel of experts, care professionals, and librarians, will be discussing and demonstrating the extraordinary impact of age/dementia friendly books on the lives of persons living with dementia.
Click here to register for the webinar.
To learn more about the webinar and the speaker backgrounds, visit the Reading Webinar Webpage. Note: Everyone who registers for the webinar will receive a recording of the webinar.
One way that long-term care providers can access these specialized books without buying them is to work with their local public library and their local “Friends of the Library” organization. If several organizations (ranging from faith communities to senior centers or residential assisted living providers) each make a modest donation, the library can purchase a full set of these specialized materials which anyone in the community can check out.
Communication and retaining social relationships are difficult for people living with dementia. Enabling residents to lean on the support of high quality, adapted books to emotionally connect with their peers is a powerful way to honor their lives, abate feelings of loneliness, and give them back their voice.
written by Bill Barberg, Founder of the Population Health Learning Collaborative www.improvepophealth.org