Perhaps more than any other demographic of readers who stand to benefit from the world of the e-reader device, it is the aged homebound who will take the most pleasure in it, if they are introduced to the devices at all. The quality of life issues that plague the elderly can cause boredom, listlessness, and hopelessness, all of which can lead to a decline in overall physical health unless a channel is found for the return of some kind of self-sufficiency and independence.
The surge of e-reader devices on the market can only mean that there is a handheld e-reader out there for everyone. Whether the patient is afflicted with debilitating arthritis and no longer has the strength to hold a printed book in one hand while turning the pages with the other, or whether the eyesight has deteriorated to the point that reading for information or enjoyment are no longer possible, an e-reader can mean the return of some level of reading that may have once been taken for granted.
One of the most compelling reasons to make reading as accessible as possible for the aged may be the research that has shown that the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia, which cannot be reversed or stopped entirely at this point, might be slowed through constant mental exercise, such as reading, and through a return to activities that the patient once found enjoyable, again, such as the enjoyment of books that have been off-limits as of late due to failing health.
Larry Enright, author of Four Years from Home and a champion for Alzheimer’s research, explains that one of the major downfalls in geriatric healthcare is that the patients easily become depressed. “We waited in the emergency room with my 82-year-old mother-in-law to get the final diagnoses related to her serious fall, and the look on her face was one of hopelessness. I distracted her by handing her my Kindle, and after a few moments of becoming familiar with it, she passed the next few hours focused on a good book instead of how bad the news might be.”
Enright lost his mother to Alzheimer’s and has seen firsthand its effects, which led him to decide that the proceeds from online sales of his book between October 2010 and May 2011 will benefit Alzheimer’s research. He and his family will pay a final tribute to his mother this fall when they participate together in the Memory Walk in her honor.
Of all of the conditions that can affect those who are beginning to notice a decline in health due that can go hand-in-hand with advanced age, those that prevent access to the simple pleasures in life are possibly the most cruel. Whether it is macular degeneration which slowly and incurably blinds the patient, or Parkinson’s disease that causes uncontrollable tremors that make reading a book nearly impossible, e-readers may be the necessary tool to bringing the patient back to some of the joy they found in reading.
Tracy Whitfield, LPTA, a physical therapist at a residential geriatric care facility, agrees. “Anything that can bring some measure of pride and interest to my patients will result in a better outcome for their physical health. A patient whom I work with who is recovering from a broken hip is going to make far better progress and at a faster rate if she is able to enjoy things like reading without it being another difficult hurdle to overcome.”
While the ability to increase the font size of the texts may be the single unifying factor of all e-readers in terms of helping the elderly, the read-aloud feature of certain e-readers may be the biggest blessing of all to the aged book lover. With headphone ports and adjustable volume controls, as well as the automated page turning feature which will mean the reader doesn’t have to support the device in one or both hands, it is easy to overlook the robotic monotone voice and simply return to the days of enjoying the magic of words.