Reading Aloud to the Elderly — revisited

Please see the update below after you have read this post. Thank you for visiting.

I mentioned to a writing colleague that the post that had the most hits on my old blog was one about reading aloud to the elderly. She asked if I could share the link, or perhaps re-post the information. I decided that although it doesn’t fit in with Behind the Scenes month, I would re-post it here, because I believe very strongly that reading aloud to the elderly is important.


Reading aloud to the elderly? Yes, that’s right. Reading aloud is not just for children. Many elderly people are no longer able to read for themselves, either because their sight isn’t good enough, they aren’t strong enough to hold a book, they have a tremor which makes the printed page dance in front of their eyes in an unreadable manner, their cognitive abilities no longer allow them to process the written word, just to name a few reasons that come readily to mind (because of personal experience). For people who have loved reading all their lives, it would mean so much for someone to take the time, even once a week, to spend a while reading aloud to them.

I have mentioned before in this blog how I used to read poetry aloud to my mother over the phone. Hearing the familiar words and cadences of long-loved favorites, and some of the new poems I shared with her from Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies as well as from our other much-loved and much-read poetry anthologies, helped Mum so much when she was anxious. I occasionally took picture books that had particularly spoken to me, to show Mum. She found them hard to manage on her own, and would ask me to read them to her. And so I read to her books such as Simeon’s Gift, and The Very Fairy Princess. My musician and teacher mother appreciated those books greatly. Mum amazed the staff at her various nursing homes, as well as our doctor, with the number of books she read. She was always challenging her mind, learning new things. About a month and a half before she died, she had a fall and broke a bone in her shoulder. Although she tried, it became too hard for her to hold a book — and her reading was one of the hardest things for her to give up. Again, poetry was able to soothe her and comfort her like nothing else.

After my Dad died, the staff at his nursing home sent me a card that they had all signed. One of the night staff included by her name, “I used to read to him on those many nights when he couldn’t sleep.” That was the first I had known of this — that someone had taken the time and had cared enough to sit and read to my Dad in the long hours of the night. Dad had Sundowner’s Dementia, which, as the name suggests, becomes much more of a problem in the evening and night, and there were many nights when he refused to go to bed, or couldn’t or wouldn’t go to sleep. It means so much to me to know that at least sometimes, someone was reading to him.

What one reads to an elderly person is very much dependent on their personal interests and tastes, and one also needs to take into account the possibility of cognitive impairment, such as with various dementias, but such impairment doesn’t preclude reading aloud, it just might mean reading for a short time, or reading the same thing over and over again. (Dad often repeated certain actions again and again, and I can imagine him wanting something read again and again.) One needs to also remember that hearing is often impaired in older people, and so one must ensure that the person can hear what is being read (while at the same time, not disturbing a nursing home roommate — sometimes a tricky endeavor).

In reading to the elderly, read-aloud doesn’t have to mean just books, either. An older friend that I used to visit in a nursing home,  who contracted West Nile Neurological Syndrome, finds it difficult to hold things to read them, and so she would sometimes ask me to read letters to her. This can be a true service to people who can’t manage envelopes, or easily decipher handwriting.

On my old blog, I ran a series about “The Fine Art of Reading Aloud”. It has been moved to this blog, and you can access it at the links below. I hope it will help you understand and internalize the fact that reading aloud can be done from cradle to grave and all the times in between. Perhaps you’ll think of one of the books I’ve mentioned in this series the next time you hear the words “Read me a story”…

Thanks for reading.

UPDATE, September 28, 2015:  I know there are many people who find this post when seeking information on reading to the elderly. I have started a new series on the topic, and will add links to the new posts as they are available (the last Monday of the month in the 2015-2016 blogging year.) Just click the title in the list below!

The WHY of Reading Aloud to the Elderly — September 28, 2015

WHAT to Read Aloud to the Elderly — October 26, 2015


Here are links to the full (rather extensive) series on The Fine Art of Reading Aloud..

Reading Rhyming Text Picture Books

Rhythm and Rhyme in Picture Books

Reading to the Littlest Ones

Books to Read to Little Ones

Reading to Emerging Readers

Reading Picture Books with Emerging Readers

Reading Chapter Books with Emerging Readers

Reading Aloud to Older Kids

6 thoughts on “Reading Aloud to the Elderly — revisited”

    1. I’m so glad your church does that, Erik. It’d be great if other churches (and other people) did this as well. Thanks!

  1. Brenda A Harris

    Thanks Beth, for posting this. I didn’t know a lot of what you posted. It was very informative. I’ll ask my dad if he would like for me to read to him. God bless.

    1. Thanks, Brenda. I’m glad it was helpful. I hope you and your dad find that having you read to him is a precious time for both of you.

  2. Somehow missed this important post. I really enjoyed your reposting and expanding upon it. My husband has been serving partt time as the interim chaplain at a major nursing home here, I shared with him last week (hadn’t seen this) your thoughts on reading to elderly. They have a lot of older volunteers and I asked him if there was any reading being done. He said no. Suggested that he talk with the volunteer coordinator. Will have to show him your blog post.

    1. I’d greatly appreciate it if you would share this with your husband, and anyone else who works with the elderly. It’s something that likely doesn’t get thought of often, but it means so much to the people in nursing homes.

      Thanks, Pat!

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