Cultivate Mom's Summer Reading to Improve Her Brain Health

Intellectual activity throughout older age will help keep mental decline at bay.

By Leah Felderman  

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Your brain is an organ and it ages in relation to how healthy it is. Just as a wide variety of physical activity helps strengthen the heart, muscles, and bones your brain relies on physical activity of the intellectual type. Intellectual activity strengthens the brain, a lifetime of which will help keep your brain in shape when you reach old age. Intellectual activity throughout older age will help keep your brain healthy and keep mental decline at bay.

Mental Decline in Older Adults

According to research published in the journal Neurology, older adults that engage in mentally stimulating activities, both earlier and later in life, experienced slower memory decline compared to those who were mentally stagnant. Specifically, people who kept intellectually healthy later in life had more than a 30% percent lower rate of mental decline compared to their peers that demonstrated merely average mental activity. Those with infrequent mental activity experienced almost a 50% faster decline in mental acuity than those with merely average mental activity.

Brain health is important at all ages but specifically exercising your brain consistently throughout the duration of your life, from childhood through old age, helps maintain the health of one of our most important organs. Don't be discouraged by lapses in exercise-it is never too late to restart and reenergize your synapses!

Activities to Exercise the Brain

What's old is new again!

Literacy rates in America are great. Yet keep in mind that our parents' and grandparents' generations have significantly different statistics when it comes to literacy rates. Reading comprehension rates also tend to decline with age due to a variety of factors. When choosing books for/with your aging parent to read keep in mind their current reading abilities and interests. Look for books offered in large print if needed. If any barriers exist to your parent taking on some regular reading such as vision issues, comprehension disabilities, stamina, distractions and concentration issues keep in mind that any amount and any type of reading is beneficial. Audiobooks are offered as a viable alternative and are widely available with great selections through a variety of paid and free resources.

If your aging parent is a baby boomer, they grew up in the literary era of some of the greats: Joseph Heller, Ernest Hemingway, C.S. Lewis, J.D. Salinger, and Tennessee Williams. Faulkner, Capote, Vonnegut, Robert Penn Warren, Sinclair Lewis, and Carson McCullers-the list of literary greats of the times is seemingly endless. Challenges to social norms and dissent of the status quo was becoming common in form and content from Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl, Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Ellison's Invisible Man, and the voluminous writings of Bradbury and Orwell.

One school of thought is to often revisit favorite literature. Rereading is thought to help strengthen memory, fluency, and comprehension. We are fortunate that the writers familiar to our baby boomer parents are so prolific and still so popular even today. In addition to being great timeless literature, most of these baby boomer classics have well-narrated audiobooks. Many have also been made into movies, and you may even be able to catch one on the stage for a night out at the theatre. The variety of formats offers your aging parent an opportunity to revisit their favorite story in a variety of venues while exploring other classics of their generation they may not have yet discovered.

Series books, books with familiar characters and/or themes, are often thought to be of great benefit as it offers readers familiarity while also exploring something new. There are a wide variety of series books, the most popular of which are sequence novels. These books can be read as individual works or serially in the order they are published. Many series books also have coordinating audio versions and film versions as well. Examples such as Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie novels have seen many reinventions through the decades. Revisiting classic children's series with the grandkids such as The Chronicles of Narnia, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys books are great for all ages and can be a wonderful bonding experience.

While the world of print has rapidly changed over the past decade one thing remains constant: your local public library is a fantastic resource. From tactile books, to electronic books, audiobooks, and film-libraries remain the best resource to cultivate Mom's summer reading.

Leah Felderman BA MA

About the Author

Leah Felderman is a proud alumnus of University of Central Florida (BA) and San Diego State University (MA). She has worn many occupational hats including teaching, hospitality management, government contractor and non-profit organizer. She is an intrepid international traveler having visited over 60 countries before happily settling down into her new life chapter of domesticity as a mom and Coast Guard wife.

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