One speech-language pathologist believes the simple act of reading is a key way to keep seniors social and engaged as they age and is working to make books accessible to people who might have trouble reading otherwise.
Susan Ostrowski is co-creator and president of Reading2Connect, a Connecticut-based organization dedicated to adapting short books and articles for seniors who are losing their ability to read. She presented Monday at the On Aging 2022 Conference in New Orleans, hosted by the American Society on Aging.
Reading2Connect produces reading materials they call “age- and dementia-friendly,” both physical and digital adaptations of fiction and nonfiction literature for seniors with dementia who live in extended care facilities. Ostrowski said these materials are meant to be enjoyed by seniors independently.
“Families are deeply troubled when they see their loved ones looking bored and helpless and lonely,” she said. “So, we come to realize that what is ethically and socially right for aging adults is beneficial to everyone and is a good return on investment.”
Ostrowski said the books Reading2Connect produces serve as a way to drive conversation in communities, and an effective way to reduce social isolation in care facilities. The literature creates an opportunity to produce discussions and stay connected.
“Age- and dementia-friendly reading opens up the doors to authentic, spontaneous social interactions between residents and staff, residents and visitors, residents and families, etc.,” she said. “The books serve as communication bridges that stimulate conversation that is unique and genuine each time the book is opened. Perhaps best of all, age and dementia-friendly reading enables older adults to interact with each other. The books with their salient text and abundant images are communication bridges. Older adults socially connect with their peers.”
The books serve as communication bridges that stimulate conversation that is unique and genuine each time the book is opened.
The physical books produced by the organization are printed on tear-resistant paper and in multiple languages, meant to withstand the daily stresses and wear and tear of use in a care facility. The organization also offers audiobooks for seniors who prefer to listen or who are visually impaired. Ostrowski said the adaptations are meant for adult readers, and are designed to be accessible but also thought-provoking.
“Engaging, accessible books stimulate imagination, memories, opinions, questions, insights, feelings, laughter, tears—you name it,” Ostrowski said. “There should be nothing juvenile or dumbed down about these books. The books should respect the individual and retain the integrity of adult literature.”
The materials are attractive to prospective families and clients at facilities as well, she said, assuring them their loved ones will have something to do and discuss, and be in a positive environment where social interaction is encouraged.
Reading2Connect currently offers 47 titles available for purchase on its website.