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Dementia and why reading matters

Last updated: 08 January 2024

An estimated 90,000 people are currently living with dementia in Scotland(this link will open in a new window). It is predicted that this will increase almost 60% by 2030, with an additional 80,000 Scots becoming carers for loved ones(this link will open in a new window) living with the condition. Our recent research found that three quarters of Scots are worried about how they might be affected by dementia now or in the future.

In the face of this urgent and worsening issue, research shows that reading can be a great source of support and comfort to people living with dementia and those that care for them. It can also help lessen the effects of dementia. Scottish Book Trust has introduced a new programme, Reading is Caring, to help those affected by dementia and ease the daily challenges they face. This article explores the insights behind Reading is Caring in further detail.

A 2019 study found statistically significant improvements in immediate and delayed memory, visuospatial skills, and attention(this link will open in a new window) in a group of care home residents who read every day compared to those who spent the same time watching television. Similarly, a 2013 study found significant reductions in dementia symptom severity(this link will open in a new window) among patients following participation in reading groups in hospitals and care homes, with some patients having been 'reinvigorated'.

These researchers noted that enjoyment, authenticity, meaningfulness and renewed sense of personal identity were crucial to the effectiveness of the groups. These elements are the bedrock of Scottish Book Trust's Reading is Caring approach, which trains carers to read with those they care for on a one-to-one basis, focusing on their experiences and interests to ensure the programme is tailored to their needs. The independent evaluation of the Reading is Caring pilot found that the programme, 'provides people living with dementia a means to share aspects of their identity and validates the things that are important to them and that have shaped who they are' and that it, 'offers an enjoyable, stimulating form of occupation for people with dementia'.

Sharing books, poems and stories can also contribute to improved quality of life, both for people living with dementia and their carers, reducing stress and strengthening bonds. A 2016 study found that shared reading in care homes 'was found to significantly improve the quality of life for those living with dementia as well as providing valuable benefit to care workers and relatives(this link will open in a new window) in encouragement of remaining human possibilities'. In particular, this looked at the ways in which sharing reading can support family relationships, with relatives commenting on how the reading gave them something new to do with their loved one, and how in some cases taking part renewed a connection that had been fading.

Through one-to-one reading between carers and those they care for, Reading is Caring takes into account the individual nature of each caring relationship to focus on this connection. One participant said, 'I go in and she's in her own world, but I read, and she comes back into the real world and sees me – the stories bring her into the here and now. She laughs, she's interested and engaged. I get a glimpse of her personality again, which is lovely for both of us'.

You can help people living with and affected by dementia by donating to Reading is Caring today.