The Link Between Reading And Memory

Want to know how reading can jog your memory?

In an age of smartphones, tablets and instant entertainment at the click of a button, sitting down with a good novel has become a little old-fashioned. But it’s still worth making time in your life for a good book, and not just because of the obvious pleasure of getting lost in its pages. It could, in fact, help to keep your memory sharp in old age.

The idea that reading is good for the mind and soul is nothing new. “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body,” said the 17th-century English essayist Joseph Addison. A book can change our life, or our outlook on life. We can remember vividly novels that we read in childhood. We refer to cultured people as ‘well-read’.

Book stand linking memory to reading

There is also scientific evidence that mentally stimulating activities such as reading do in fact help keep the mind sharp. In 2013, a study was published in the journal Neurology that suggested that reading books, writing and participating in brain-stimulating activities at any age may preserve memory.

For the study, 294 people were given tests that measured memory every year for about six years before their deaths at an average age of 89. They also answered a questionnaire about whether they read books, wrote and participated in other mentally stimulating activities during childhood, adolescence, middle age and at their current age.

After they died, their brains were examined at autopsy for evidence of the physical signs of dementia. The research found that people who participated in mentally stimulating activities both early and late in life had a slower rate of decline in memory compared to those who did not participate in such activities across their lifetime.

Memory is a complex process. It has many types. For example, the memory you use to remember how to drive a car is different from how you remember to turn up for an appointment in the future. And because memory is so complex, many things affect it, including mental activity, the health of the brain and how fit the body is. Sometimes there’s nothing we can do to prevent memory loss: the cruel nature of dementia means it can strike even the fittest, brightest minds. However, maintaining a good level of mental and physical activity has been shown to help reduce memory loss.

Couple reading together in their McCarthy Stone apartment

Reading on its own will not guarantee good memory well into your senior years, but it can help as part of a generally healthy lifestyle. So if you needed a compelling reason other than pure enjoyment to pick up a book, there you have it. “To read is to voyage through time,” said the scientist Carl Sagan. Even better if you can remember the voyage too!