• There are two main types of memory – episodic and working
  • Both these skills decline with age
  • Regular reading can bolster these skills due to practice

There is no denying that our memory will decline as we age. However, we can train our brains to maintain mental sharpness through a simple activity – leisure reading.

The new study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, has found a significant link between stronger memory and reading in older adults.

"Leisure reading, the kind that really sucks you in, is good for you, and it helps build the mental abilities on which reading depends," said study co-author Liz Stine-Morrow, a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at Beckman Research Institute, California, reported MedicalXpress.

There are two main types of memory – episodic memory and working memory. A person has to employ both of these while reading. Episodic memory comes into play when a reader has to remember and keep track of the content from the previous chapters. Working memory, on the other hand, requires the person to hold recent data from the previous paragraphs in his memory.

Both these skills decline with age, but regular reading can bolster them due to practice.

"There's a pretty robust literature showing that there's a relationship between working memory and both language comprehension and long-term memory. Working memory seems to decline with age, but there's a lot of variation, especially among older adults," Stine-Morrow said.

The researcher and her team conducted an experiment to find a causal link between reading for pleasure and stronger memory skills. They first created a good collection of interesting books.

"We didn't rely solely on popularity," said Kristina Hoerner, manager of the Adult Learning Lab at the institute. "We wanted to make sure that the list contained both familiar titles and books that the participants might not have discovered on their own. The list also contained a variety of genres from non-fiction to mystery to more complicated literary fiction."

Researchers then distributed iPads to a group of older adults between the ages of 60 and 79. The devices were preloaded with a custom app to track participants' reading progress. The participants read for three hours a day, five days a week, for eight weeks. Another group was asked to complete word puzzles on their iPads instead of reading.

"We controlled as much as we could between the activities except for the 'magic juice,'" which according to Stine-Morrow means "getting immersed in a story."

The cognitive skills, including working and episodic memory, and verbal and reading skills of the participants were tested before and after the experiment.

The results were clear. The reading group outperformed the puzzle group by showing significant improvements in working memory and episodic memory.

"There's more promise in engaging fully in the stimulating things that we already do in our lives. That's probably the best pathway to maintaining our mental ability and offsetting the effects of Alzheimer's disease," Stine-Morrow added.

Child Reading
Pictured: Representation of a child reading a book. Pixabay