Published: October 14, 2023
Reviewed by: Deidre Sommerer, LPN, MS, CMC, CDP

Retirement can bring a lot of happiness to many seniors. They can focus on spending quality moments with loved ones, learning new skills and enjoying their favorite hobbies. Some seniors might even take advantage of their golden years by traveling, while others prefer to relax and read more often. Those who choose to read more often can experience several benefits that come with taking time to read each day.

Cognitive decline is a relatively common issue among seniors. In fact, among American adults aged 70 and over, approximately 66% experience some level of decline in their cognitive abilities. One way to combat cognitive decline is by keeping the mind active through reading and engaging in other mentally stimulating activities, as well as by socializing and exercising. 

Research consistently shows that reading in later years can have numerous benefits, including improving memory, fluency and episodic recall. A study published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that those who read regularly have a cognitive advantage over those who read casually or not at all. Furthermore, other studies have found that consistent book reading can decrease stress, promote better sleep, and even extend life expectancy.

This guide provides an overview of the vast benefits of reading for seniors and the role libraries across the nation play in helping seniors reap those benefits. It also includes tips for encouraging seniors to read more often. 

How Libraries Can Help Seniors

Seniors who enjoy reading can benefit from visiting their local library. They can access a variety of reading materials for free or at a low cost. Libraries also offer opportunities for socializing with other seniors and attending free programs like classes and book clubs.

The Top Benefits of Reading for Older Adults

Reading is a great way to enhance the quality of life for seniors, and best of all, the benefits of regular reading later in life are abundant. Below, we discuss the top benefits of reading in greater detail.

Enhanced Memory Function

Memory decline is common among seniors as they age. However, reading for a few minutes every day can help slow down the progression of memory loss. This is especially helpful for seniors with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, as reading can maintain some level of short-term memory during the early stages of these diseases.

Maintain and Improve Cognitive Function

Analytical skills may be vastly improved with regular reading, a benefit that could prove beneficial for seniors at risk of cognitive decline. Studies have shown that seniors who read every day can not only maintain, but even improve their cognitive function.

Increased Empathy

As people get older, their capacity for empathy may fade. Seniors with reduced levels of cognitive empathy may have difficulty understanding and connecting with others’ emotions and thoughts. But reading can help. Biographies and fiction written in the first-person can be especially helpful in expanding one’s understanding of different perspectives and improving empathic abilities.

Better Sleep

A UK study conducted and published by the University of Sussex determined that reading, regardless of the style or topic, can improve sleep substantially. In fact, as many as 68% of those involved in the study reported better sleep when opting for a book in the minutes and hours before bedtime.

Improved Focus

Many seniors who are living with cognitive decline struggle to concentrate, but regularly engaging in activities that stimulate the brain can help. That’s where reading comes in. Daily reading is a good way to develop concentration skills and repair concentration that may have worsened as a result of neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s.

Reduced Stress and Anxiety

The significance of reading for stress and anxiety can’t be discounted. Seniors who regularly sit down to read a book are less likely to feel anxious and stressed, feelings that are particularly common in those entering long-term care or facing critical health diagnoses.

Delayed Onset of Dementia

A study published in JAMA Neurology that included nearly 2,000 healthy adults aged 70 and older suggested that those who regularly read and do other mentally stimulating activities  faced a lower risk of memory impairment disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease.

How to Help Seniors Become Avid Readers

Unless a person has spent their life enjoying books, it can be difficult to start a healthy reading routine. However, with some encouragement from loved ones and caregivers, reading can be appealing to even the most hesitant senior. 

Here are a few ways to help seniors become more enthusiastic about reading every day:

  • Find large-print books: For seniors with vision problems, reading can be challenging. Although some may manage with reading glasses, others may experience intense strain while trying to read small print, leading them to avoid reading altogether. Fortunately, large-print formats are available for many bestsellers and other books designed specifically for those with visual impairments.
  • Purchase an e-reader: E-readers can be a good option for older people who are comfortable with technology or have someone to help them learn. These devices are beneficial for people with vision problems thanks to adjustable font sizes and built-in lighting. E-readers also make it easy to get new books without leaving home, which is great for those who can’t make it to the library or bookstore often.
  • Suggest audiobooks: Audiobooks are an excellent way for seniors to enjoy stories and information without reading. Even if someone is not a big fan of reading, they can still listen to the same stories and get the same benefits. Seniors can listen to audiobooks while doing other things like exercising, driving, or participating in hobbies. They can also listen to them at night to unwind and relax.
  • Provide a magnifying tool and/or book light: Seniors may avoid reading books due to visual issues, such as difficulty with print size and clarity. Even large-print books may not be helpful. To make reading more comfortable, you can provide a combination of a magnifying tool and a book light to aid seniors struggling with their vision.
  • Offer books targeted at seniors or special-interest stories: Sometimes, older people may not enjoy reading because they’re not interested in the available books. You can help them find a book that’s meant for their age group or about a topic they find interesting. This can help them get excited about reading.
  • Locate a book club: To help your older family member get involved in activities, suggest they do something with another person or group. A book club could be a good option for those who might be nervous about trying new hobbies or don’t care about reading. You can help by going with them or helping them find someone else to go with.

Getting your loved one to read regularly has many advantages. If they are no longer interested in reading, it’s crucial to determine the reasons behind their lack of enjoyment. Once you identify the cause, you can suggest solutions to help them overcome any challenges.

How to Get a Library Card

There are plenty of ways you can help your loved one access more books with libraries, regardless of where in America you live.

To help a senior get a library card, take them to their local library. Most libraries offer free cards, while others charge a small fee. By having a library card, seniors can access free learning opportunities, clubs, and other programs that can keep them engaged in learning. It’s a great way to keep seniors active and learning new things.

Seniors who are housebound or cannot attend their local library in person for other reasons might want to consider digital library cards, which are available in most cities across the United States. These offer unlimited access to e-books, magazines and other resources that seniors can enjoy from home. The Digital Public Library of America also offers an array of free e-books and online exhibitions that seniors can enjoy.