Making reading accessible to people with dementia

Image: Nathalia Bariani

Nada Savitch is a befriending and safeguarding specialist who is working with us to develop the induction for organisations taking part in Reading Friends, our new UK-wide befriending project funded by The Big Lottery. As part of her work with Innovations in Dementia, she worked with people with dementia to enable them to give their input into the development of the programme.

Reading is viewed as a simple pleasure by so many people: as well as being an enjoyable pastime, it can be empowering, help you find out information and stimulate debate.

For most older people, reading continues to be a source of entertainment and inspiration. Developments such as audio books, large print books and electronic books mean that even when we start developing problems with eyesight or dexterity, the world of reading is not shut off from most people as they get older.

However, for some older people, reading can become frustrating, a challenge or a source of anxiety. Once a solitary pleasure, reading can begin to remind them that they are alone. For people who are developing dementia, it can bring other challenges.

Reading with dementia

Many people with dementia will say that they cannot read, but this simple phrase hides a number of issues. Some people with dementia do find words on a page difficult, while many can read words and phrases but might have trouble following complicated sentences, a line of thought or the plot of a story.

Meanwhile, people who are carers may long for some time of their own to immerse themselves in a good book. However, they may feel guilty that they should be doing something more productive or may have so much going on in their minds that following a storyline becomes impossible.

We can all imagine how frustrating it could be to lose the pleasures that reading brings.

Reading with others

The popularity of book clubs has shown how reading does not have to be a solitary pastime: people like to get together to share their love of reading, to discuss a book and just to have fun.

That is why Innovations in Dementia is proud to be associated with the new Reading Agency project Reading Friends, which is funded by the Big Lottery Fund.

The project is special because it just seeks to promote reading in a way that is accessible to everyone, through one-to-one and group social reading, book chats, themed and reader curated book lists, book gifting and author events.

Input from people with dementia

As part of my work with Innovations in Dementia, I was happy to support people with dementia to have input into the design of this project. This has included groups in the Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project, a UK network of groups of people with dementia, many of which have a reading element.

People with dementia from the Educate group in Stockport were also instrumental in shaping the project proposal. They run a reading group where people with dementia get together to share texts: they read out loud where they want to or listen to the others reading. But most importantly they have fun and share the experience.

This project is starting off in the right way: we are helping The Reading Agency to create a steering group for the project to ensure that Reading Friends is developed by and with older people, not for them.

I can’t wait to see how the test projects work out and what the programme will discover from older people about what they want from the project.

Get involved

Reading Friends aims to empower, engage and connect vulnerable and isolated older people, people with dementia and carers through social reading activities. The programme is currently being tested in four areas.

If you are interested in hearing more about Reading Friends, or you would like to be added to our newsletter mailing list please contact [email protected]

Talking fiction? Research reveals our reading habits and hang-ups

Image courtesy of Staffs Libraries

Friday 21 April 2017: Our new research suggests the UK is a nation of wannabe bookworms.

The survey, commissioned to mark World Book Night on Sunday 23 April, suggests huge numbers of us are hankering after more reading time, but busy lives are getting in the way. Many Brits would read more if they received book recommendations from friends and family, while others will readily stretch the truth about the books they’ve read, in order to impress.

This World Book Night, we are calling on book lovers across the country to give a great book to someone who doesn’t read often – in recognition of the challenges many people face when it comes to finding the right book. The aim is to get brilliant books into the hands of thousands of young people and adults who haven’t yet discovered books as a companion through life’s ups and downs.

World Book Night will have support from a glittering cast of book lovers this year, including Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall, who has given books on World Book Night every year since it began. Her Royal Highness will be gifting copies of Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker to the libraries at HMP Brixton, HMP Erlestoke and HMP Coldingley.

Revealed: the nation’s reading habits and hang-ups

Wishful readers

The survey of 2,000 UK adults found that two thirds (67%) would like to read more, but nearly half (48%) admit they are too busy to read. Whilst hectic lives appear to be getting in between Brits and a good book, over a third (35%) said they struggle to find a book they really like, and a quarter (26%) reveal they would read more if they received book recommendations from someone they knew.

Comfort between the pages

Those of us who are reading books are finding support, inspiration and solace between the pages. Nearly two thirds (59%) said they would turn to a book in times of stress, anxiety or illness. Meanwhile, almost half of Brits (48%) say they would rely on a book to help navigate the ups and downs of friendships and relationships.

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story

The survey suggests two in five of us (41%) will stretch the truth when it comes to what, or how much we’ve read. Men are the biggest culprits, with one in five (19%) admitting they’d lie about their reading habits in order to impress in a job interview. Other top scenarios are stretching the truth whilst on a date, when meeting the in-laws and on social media profiles.

Today’s millennials are the generation most likely to stretch the truth, with 64% of 18-24 year olds fibbing about the number of books, or the kinds of books, they’ve read. One quarter of 18-24 year olds (25%) admit to having lied about reading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, when they have in fact just watched the film.

Sue Wilkinson, Chief Executive of The Reading Agency said:

“It’s great to see from our research that Brits still love to read, but not surprising that some people feel they are too busy to do so. Finding the right book can be key to getting back into the reading habit, and our research shows how influential book recommendations and book gifting can be. So on World Book Night we are urging keen readers to give a book to someone they know who doesn’t currently read for pleasure.

“At The Reading Agency, we believe everything changes when we read. It’s proven that reading for pleasure is a more powerful factor in life achievement than socio-economic background; that it can result in higher levels of self-esteem and improve social interaction.

“Our aim for World Book Night is to get brilliant books into the hands of people, young and old, who don’t read regularly. On 23 April we want hundreds of thousands of people across the country to pick up a good book, and discover the joy, excitement and comfort that lie waiting for them between the pages.”

Get involved

Find out more about World Book Night 2017

Take part in an event near you

Tell us what book you would recommend to someone who doesn’t read for pleasure on Twitter using #WorldBookNight

World Book Night, Reading Elephants, and why it all matters

By Vaseem Khan, author of the Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series

Some months ago, I received a message from my publisher informing me that my book The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra had been selected for World Book Night. After the initial euphoria had died down, I realised that this honour carried much greater significance than simply helping to boost my own profile as an author.

Vaseem Khan2.JPGThe aim of World Book Night is to “reach those who don’t regularly read”, to celebrate reading, and books, as a national occasion. I cannot think of a more apt and necessary agenda for an author to be involved with. After all, the very existence of an author is predicated on the belief that there are individuals out there who can and will read our work. Yes, we derive personal satisfaction from the act of creation, but don’t let any author tell you they don’t care whether anyone reads their books or not. I am certainly no exception.

It took me twenty-three years and six rejected novels to finally see my books in print. The Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series – of which The Unexpected Inheritance was the first – has gone on to become a bestselling endeavour, following the adventures of Inspector Ashwin Chopra and his one-year-old baby elephant sidekick Ganesha as they solve crimes in modern India – and I have found myself on a rollercoaster ride of media interviews and literary festivals ever since.

As gratifying as this all is, none of it compares to the simple satisfaction of interacting with individual readers, of hearing what they liked or didn’t like about the books, and of learning about their ‘reading lives’. I am particularly fascinated by people’s earliest memories of reading – What created in them an affinity for reading? A special book? A dedicated teacher? Encouragement at home?

Unexpected cover.jpgOver the course of the past year I have spoken at numerous schools, to children of varying degrees of reading ability, to adult groups who find reading a challenge (I am scheduled to speak to a drug recovery group next month), and run a library book group for east London residents, many of whom do not count English as a first language. This is all part of my own simple initiative to promote literacy, which I have named The Reading Elephant, in honour of little Ganesha.

What struck me was how vulnerable those who struggle with the written word can be made to feel, if they are not positively encouraged. Initiatives such as World Book Night are a clarion call to educators everywhere to set our shoulders squarely to the wheel.

Why is literacy so important?

One only has to examine the post-truth world we now live in to understand how a lack of literacy can hamstring ordinary citizens, even those in established democracies, leaving them at the mercy of agendas which they cannot follow, and thus influence. But literacy is so much more than a means of ensuring inclusion in the national dialogue. Literacy is the foundation on which modern society has been built; it is the scaffold on which economic and social progress is erected.

It is more imperative than ever that we begin to address these types of literacy inequalities. Not just between rich and poor, the have and the have nots, but also for those who are not born with an innate aptitude for the endeavour. Research by the National Literacy Trust indicates that fewer pupils now read for enjoyment. Some 16% of adults in England are “functionally illiterate” – ie. they have “literacy levels at or below those of an 11-year-old”, hampering employment in many areas, and rendering a struggle even everyday tasks such as supporting their children with reading and homework.

I firmly believe that for any society that aspires to call itself civilised it must be seen as a right of every citizen to receive the correctly calibrated support and encouragement – in tune with their abilities – to bring them along on the road to literacy. The Reading Agency – who run World Book Night and who “aim to inspire more people to read”, state their rationale as “Because everything changes when we read.” I could not agree with this more. Reading is the key to unlocking aspirations, the ultimate tool in ensuring inclusivity in our modern society.

There is no magic bullet in this fight – but initiatives such as World Book Night are another step towards the light.

Get involved

Find out more about World Book Night

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra is one of many books donated by publishers for World Book Night 2017. Take a look at the others

Manchester residents challenged to get Reading Ahead

20 April 2017: A campaign to inspire more people in Manchester to get reading has launched today, as part of the Read Manchester campaign from Manchester City Council and the National Literacy Trust.

Developed by The Reading Agency, Manchester Reading Ahead invites adults and young people of all reading abilities to pick six reads and record, rate and review them in a diary. Participants can choose to read books, newspapers, magazines or even websites, and will receive a certificate when they have completed six.

Manchester Reading Ahead is being backed by the Lord Mayor of Manchester, Councillor Carl Austin-Behan. The programme promotes reading for pleasure, supporting local participants to get into the habit of reading regularly and build their reading confidence, which can have a significant impact on their literacy skills and wellbeing.

The Reading Agency’s evaluation of the national Reading Ahead programme in 2015/16 found that after taking part, 96% of organisations running the programme agreed that participants’ reading confidence had increased while 92% said it increased their enjoyment of reading.

“Reading is a habit we should all take up”

Manchester Reading Ahead will run until September through public libraries, adult learning organisations, colleges, workplaces, schools and children’s centres across the city. Manchester College, Wythenshawe Community Housing Group and Manchester Adult Education Service are among the organisations that have signed up take part.

Lord Mayor of Manchester, Cllr Carl Austin-Behan, said:

“I have never really been a reader, but one thing I have learnt through my term as Lord Mayor is how important reading is, and more importantly how important it is for children to learn to read, however it’s never too late – I’m determined to turn this round and have signed myself up for the Reading Ahead Challenge to make sure that I do.

“Reading is a habit for life that we should all take up – it improves outcomes across the board for children and adults. I’ll be talking to all my friends and contacts about Reading Ahead and getting them to sign up too.”

Director of the National Literacy Trust Jonathan Douglas said:

“The reading habits of parents and adult family members have an important impact on children’s attitudes towards books and reading, which are closely linked to their attainment at school. Manchester Reading Ahead is a great way to promote positive reading behaviours at home and inspire the whole family to spend time reading together.”

CEO of The Reading Agency Sue Wilkinson, said:

“We are delighted to be a partner in Manchester’s brilliant and much needed campaign to encourage people to read more. Our evaluation shows the difference participation in Reading Ahead makes to the adults who get involved, and the wider benefits which come from them building their own reading confidence and being able to read to and with their children.”

Manchester Reading Ahead is part of year-long programme of Read Manchester activities to get the city reading and improve literacy levels.

Get involved

Read more about Manchester Reading Ahead and find out how to get involved

Find out how to set up Reading Ahead at your organisation

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