I look at my Mom and Dad (88 and 95 years old respectively) in amazement as how well they have kept themselves mentally alert. While good genetics is a factor, when I look at their daily routine, they read the newspaper, watch TV news and read to keep up with what’s going on in the world. I’m embarrassed to say they stay on top of world events better than I do. I firmly believe being avid readers and keeping mentally active is a huge factor keeping them mentally alert, which is paramount to enjoying the senior years.
There have, however, been a few physical changes over recent years that have presented a few challenges. First, their eyes are more prone to eye strain. Eye glasses allow for clearly reading the page, but with age, fewer natural tears are produced, which limits the amount of time reading before the eyes get tired. Audio books seemed like a good alternative, but their hearing is also not as good as it used to be either, so that brought extra challenges too.
Here are a few lessons learned from my own parents. Keep in mind this is by no means an official study; your results will most assuredly vary. I’d love for you to comment with any experiences you have had.
Standard hardcover and paperback books
The standard paperback and hardcover print format is easily available to buy or check out from the local library. The problem is the type is typically small and older eyes may only be able to read for small periods of time due to eye strain. How sad it must be for your amount of reading to be limited due to eye strain. Unfortunately, I too find eye strain an issue after spending a work day in front of a PC monitor.
My brother and I thought audio books would be a great alternative to print books. We bought a CD player with decent quality speakers, accompanied by a selection of audio books we knew my parents would enjoy. My dad also has hearing loss, so some of the voices were harder to hear than others. His loss is more pronounced for certain pitches, so it’s not as easy as turning up the volume. In general, lower male voices are easier for him to understand than higher-pitched female voices. There are exceptions to that, however. Once, I bought two books and he was able to understand the female author/reader but not the other book with a male author/reader.
I concluded it’s difficult to judge an audio book without listening to it first, so in the future, I will probably opt to check out a library copy rather than waste money purchasing an audio book. I know readers with an accent can be difficult for the hearing-impaired to understand. Also, good enunciation is key. For pitch hearing loss, it’s like playing a piano with certain keys broken and the brain has to “fill in” the missing notes. Ear phones may help to be able to turn up the volume, but nothing beats speaking clearly.
Large print books
After audio books met limited success, I thought large print editions may be easier for my parent to read for long periods of time. The first book was an overwhelming success. Mom said, “I was able to read page after page without eye strain. The only problem was that I lost track of the time.” Eureka! The problem with large print is that only a limited number of books are available in large print and they are more expensive to purchase. Mental note: definitely check for large print editions in the future.
Since large print experiment was successful, I thought perhaps a reading magnifier may be helpful. They already have bifocal eye glasses, so it was not a matter of focus, or using reading eye glasses. When I checked, there are a number of magnifiers available to enlarge the print. Some you hold over the page like Dick Tracy. Others are designed to glide over the page line by line. I went with a half-sheet size that could be propped above the page without having to constantly move it. It does help readability, but can be cumbersome to keep moving as you read. When I asked how they enjoyed it, I got a positive response, but not the life-altering applause of the large print.
I’ve debated the value of an e-reader. With the use of E Ink technology, the readers can be used in the sun and is supposed to be easier on the eyes than LCD display. I’ve read commentary on the amount of eye strain of an e-reader vs. print books and options vary. Claims are made that e-books can produce less eye strain, but they seem to be directed to young, healthy eyes, and I have not seen anything specific to older eyes producing fewer tears.
At the original price of $399 for a Kindle e-reader, I thought it was an expensive experiment for something that may or may not work well. That’s also assuming the reader is easy enough for a 95-year-old to use. Just yesterday, news broke that the e-book price war is on and the reader price is now down to $189 for a 3G Kindle and $199 for a Nook 3G and many predict that’s not the bottom. At least the investment will not be as great and the e-book price is lower than print. The settings allow for large-print display, so virtually all e-books can be large print editions.
What has been your experience with book formats for elderly readers or for readers with sight or hearing disabilities? Please comment with your suggestions or experience. I’d love to hear from you!