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Rekindling the love of reading in people living with dementia

Reading is one of life’s great pleasures but often becomes difficult for people living with cognitive impairments, like dementia. 

A new series of adapted classics aims to revive the love of literature in people who might otherwise struggle to read.

“It’s about helping people re-discover the joy of doing something they once loved, especially those who have been avid readers,” says Dr Sally Rimkeit, who co-adapted the works with Dr Gillian Claridge. 

Dr Rimkeit is a psychogeriatrican at the Capital and Coast District Health Board and Dr Claridge is an applied linguist and Dean of the Institute of Pacific United New Zealand. Their diverse expertise and experience is an ideal blend for the project of adapting great works of literature for people living with cognitive impairments. 

Dr Claridge originally believed that adaption would require simplifying the language but soon learned this was not the case. 

Shortening the storyline and using memory aides to help the reader keep track of the characters and plot.

Dr Rimkeit

By contrast, during the initial pilot programme, it became clear that some people living with dementia maintain a good command and appreciation of language. Readers did not want the text to be oversimplified like a children’s book. They still enjoyed the original style and rhythm. 

Instead, adaptation focused on, “Shortening the storyline and using memory aides to help the reader keep track of the characters and plot,” says Dr Rimkeit. 

The adaptations have kept the essence of the works while making them more accessible. 

Dr Rimkeit has seen first-hand how much pleasure people living with dementia can get from great works of literature. Stories can help provide cognitive stimulation as well as encouraging social interaction. Group readings can lead to discussions about ideas and word meanings. 

Alan Keene, an avid Auckland reader, who is living with dementia says, “I enjoy reading, and I think the way these books have been crafted is really clever. Having the character list is useful, and the summary of the plot at the beginning of each chapter is helpful too. I like crime novels and so enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes book most. I think that books like this will help me to continue to enjoy reading and could help others living with dementia too’ 

Bupa, who is sponsoring the books, will use them in their 60 care homes nationwide and it’s hoped that libraries will also use them as a step to becoming dementia-friendly. 

“Whether the books are read by individuals at home, as a read-aloud activity in a day centre or with a book club, I hope they can provide a meaningful activity for many and a useful resource for libraries in helping to create dementia-friendly communities,” says Professor Graham Stokes, Bupa’s Global Director of Dementia Care. 

During 2017 Bupa will be involved in research into the effectiveness of the books, with Professor Stokes as the project’s Academic Advisor. 

Fostering wellbeing through reading in people living with dementia fits with Bupa’s Person First approach to care which focuses on making an emotional connection with the person in addition to caring for their medical needs. This is especially important in caring for those living with dementia. 

The first series of books released by Dovetale Press includes four beloved classics – Sherlock Holmes, Little Women, Katherine Mansfield’s Short Stories and Poetry for the Restless Heart. The initial adaptation of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, which was part of the pilot project, has also been updated as a second edition. 

You can learn more about dementia and see Bupa's options for dementia care.

Dr Rimkeit and Dr Claridge have set up their own Publisher, Dovetale Press, to produce the books in New Zealand. For more information see www.dovetalepress.com

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