The Benefits of Reading to the Elderly

Reading and oral storytelling is a beloved human tradition. People have been weaving dynamic stories about their histories and mythologies since the beginning of humanity. Storytelling, whether through accurate family histories, embellished fish hunting trips or literature fosters bonding between friends and family. Nowadays, people love to read for education and pleasure. It is usually a family tradition to read to children, but a love of storytelling can be always enjoyed as a life-long reader. Reading to the elderly, especially, can be a joyful source of companionship to both the reader and their elderly loved one.

The Benefits of Reading

As your school teachers have said, there are numerous benefits of reading, especially for the brain! While reading the written word may become inaccessible due to common barriers such as declining vision, dementia, arm strength, and other disabilities, shared reading still holds similar benefits. Reading together can improve quality of life as it increased social interaction, stimulates memories while improving mood, mental health, and focus.

Reading Material

Choosing the right read-aloud activities depends on your family’s preferences.  Begin by asking your elderly loved one what types of story genre they prefer such as fantasy or romance and then what type of medium they have preferred in the past such as poetry or historical texts. Your elderly loved ones will know which style of storytelling they prefer and will be able to guide you towards literature that they are interested in. Finding stories that capture their interest is the first step to spark enjoyment in this new activity.

Optional reading material:

  • Novels
  • Short stories
  • Poems
  • Historical text
  • Biographies
  • Religious passages
  • Philosophical passages
  • Magazines
  • Comics
  • Graphic novels
  • Plays
  • Newspaper columns
  • Nonfiction
  • New and family recipes

Reading Activities for Elders

While reading is often assumed to be a solitary activity, it can also be for groups as well, even eliciting dynamic audience participation. You want the listener to feel as engaged and invested in the story as you do as the reader. In order to encourage audience participation, it is important for you to be mindful and engage yourself as the reader. The better the narrator, the more engaged the listener.

To become a better narrator, try preparing your read aloud in advance.  Habits like reading the story prior to visiting can increase the familiarity and confidence of you as the reader. Additionally, your facial expressions should match what is going on in the story, if you speak and act in a monotone voice then your audience will not be engaged. Reading out loud is a lot like theatre, you have to overemphasize your facial expressions. Emphasize your intonation, pitch, and pauses to add that theatre flair to the read-aloud.  Your audience also has as much to say about the reading as you do, so after the reading section ensure that you are asking their opinion on the style of the book as well as their preference in the genre.

 Reading activities may include:

  • Short Stories – So you can begin and end the same book in the same session.
  • Chapter Books – So you can build memory concentration, just ensure you are recapping the plot before each session.
  • Childhood Favorites – Reminiscing about a nostalgic book can spark joy and remind them of their childhood.
  • Open-ended Stories – Open-ended stories are stories that have an inconclusive ending which provides an opportunity for you and your elderly loved one to come up with their own ending. if you do not have access to open-ended stories, you can always read up until the last chapter of any story and ask them their opinion on what the ending could be.

Reading can be an incredible cure for the loneliness and isolation that many seniors feel, especially if they live alone or away from their friends and family.  The best part about reading is that you do not need to physically visit them to enjoy the activity.  If your elderly loved one lives away from you, then you can read to them over the phone or through video conferencing.  As long as you keep your voice and facial expressions dynamic, reading over any distance will not hinder the enjoyment. Reading and storytelling are as natural to humans as living and breathing, so find the best way for you and your elderly loved ones to read together so you can bond over this special activity!


If you found this article helpful, we also recommend you check these related posts in our Home Care Services blog:

Recommended Books for Sibling Caregivers

Assistive Devices for Seniors

Fun Activities for Seniors with Limited Mobility

Independence and In-Home Care for Seniors