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]

The Reading Agency

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