5 tips to help seniors enjoy reading

Colder weather is on its way, and with many of us mindful of social distancing rules, we’ll be spending more time indoors looking for activities to engage our minds, feed our spirits and warm our hearts.

Reading satisfies all three. Plus, curling up on your couch with a paperback is actually beneficial for your health. Canada’s National Reading Campaign* offers three pages of research touting the fact that, for example, when it comes to reducing stress, reading is 68 per cent better than listening to music.

But for some seniors, reading can be a challenge. Vision problems or difficulty in holding a book can be barriers to an enjoyable pastime. Here are five tips to help re-discover reading again:

  1. Check out the technology

    E-books and readers. If you have difficulty with small print, an e-book reader may be the solution. E-readers allow you to adjust the font size and, contrary to popular opinion, research shows that the backlit screens are actually easier on older eyes.* They also allow you to store numerous titles, which you can buy, or borrow from your local library. For seniors who are technology newbies, e-books are relatively simple to use; ask or search for ones labelled “senior-friendly.”

    Audio books and players. Audio books are becoming increasingly popular for people who have vision issues, or who simply prefer to listen to their bestseller being read aloud on an audio player. You don’t have to buy a dedicated player: you can create a senior-friendly audio player from an existing tablet or smartphone with a unique app.*

  2. Helpful book lights and magnifying glasses

    To prevent eye strain, practice the 20/20/20 technique: every 20 minutes, look at an object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.* For better viewing, there are numerous styles of book lights, from clip-ons to headlamps. You can also find excellent hands-free magnifying glasses with built-in lights that cover the entire page.

  3. Connect with a book club

    If you enjoy reading, are open to reading books that may be different from your usual selections, and love to share thoughts—and maybe a beverage—with others, then a book club may be for you.

    For those just diving back into the book world, clubs are a great way to re-discover a love for reading. Retirement residences and seniors’ homes often have thriving book clubs, making for enjoyable and safe get-togethers and stimulating discussion.

  4. Find a volunteer reader

    The Reader, a charitable group in the UK, recruits “reader leaders” to read great works of literature out loud to seniors and other groups. Discussion afterwards is optional; the idea is to make participants feel engaged, calm and thoughtful.*

    For most of us, reading aloud brings back warm childhood memories. For family members visiting a senior loved one, reading aloud is a wonderful focal point for the visit. It can stimulate memories, encourage discussion about topical events, or simply be a way to enjoy shared moments together.

  5. Find a good book!

    Choosing can be overwhelming. Many retirement residences, for instance, have their own libraries. Ask friends, family or staff for recommendations, or check the bestseller lists of your local newspaper. Libraries, of course, also provide patrons with suggested titles and lists compiled by interest. Online, Goodreads* has reader reviews for thousands of titles.

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:

1) National Reading Campaign (Canada). “Reading Facts” PDF. Undated, online: http://nationalreadingcampaign.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/ReadingFacts1.pdf

2) Media Daily News. “Tablets provide better print reader for older demographics.” Feb. 8, 2013, online: https://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/193115/

3) Instructables Circuits. “How to build an audiobook player for your grandma.” 2016, online: https://www.instructables.com/How-to-Build-an-Audiobook-Player-for-Your-Grandma/

4) Michigan State University. Ergonomics Committee: “Research: Reading.” Undated, online: https://lib.msu.edu/ergo/research/reading/

5) The Reader. “What we do.” 2020, online: https://www.thereader.org.uk/

6) Goodreads. 2020, online: https://www.goodreads.com/