With an aging population, many have looked into ways to prevent or slow the process of cognitive decline. Researchers at the University of Perugia were interested in whether reading and engaging with fiction could serve as an intervention for those living with dementia, based on the idea that narrative fiction engages a wide range of brain areas.
Bartolucci and Batini (2019) conducted a longitudinal study examining the effects of listening to, and discussing, texts. Their outcomes included various cognitive abilities, including memory, attention, language, and visuospatial abilities. Participants, suffering from dementia, were assigned to either the experimental group or a control group. The participants first completed a set of neuropsychological tests. Then, the experimental group was read aloud to for 20 minutes, 5 days per week, for 14 weeks. In contrast, the control group followed their usual schedule for each day and time.
Initially, participants in the experimental group were read very simple texts, short in length and only consisting of short sentences. As time went on, texts were included that contained longer and longer semantic units. The duration of the texts also became longer, so that the stories could not be completed in one session, requiring participants to remember what occurred during the previous sitting. After 40 sessions, both groups completed the same set of neuropsychological tests. After one month had passed, the experimental group participated in an additional 30 sessions. After which, both groups again completed the same set of neuropsychological tests.
These researchers found that scores for the experimental group increased for measures of immediate and delayed memory, visuospatial skills, and attention. The experimental group also performed better on some subtests of their language measure, including prose memory and word learning. These results demonstrate the power that reading and engaging with stories have with respect to our cognitive abilities. Story activities require us to use our own memories and personal experiences to understand and experience text, a useful and effective exercise for those living with dementia.
Reference: Bartolucci, M., & Batini, F. (2019). Long term narrative training can enhance cognitive performances in patients living with cognitive decline. Educational Gerontology, 45(7), 469–475. doi: 10.1080/03601277.2019.1658384
Post by Laura Bandi
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* For a copy of the original article, please contact R. Mar (see profile for e-mail).
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