Can I Still Read as My Early Stage Dementia Progresses?

I Have Early Stage Alzheimer's and I Enjoy Reading.

Two Senior Woman Reading Newspaper
Reading with Alzheimers. Hinterhaus Productions / Getty Images


When you are in the early stages of Alzheimer's or a related dementia, you can most likely continue to read without a problem. You might occasionally experience some difficulty with remembering everything you've read, especially if the material is unfamiliar. You may also need to go back to re-read some information to improve your comprehension of what you're reading, but the skill of reading will most likely remain intact in the early stages of dementia.

As Alzheimer's progresses into the middle stages of dementia, most people can still read, but typically this ability will gradually decline over time. This can vary, and I've seen people in mid-stage dementia continue to enjoy reading, especially if it's been a life-long habit. What often appears to decline is the ability to understand or remember what they're reading.

If the time comes when an academic journal just doesn't hold your interest anymore, you might still enjoy reading other simpler and more engaging books in the middle stages of dementia.

People in the late stages of Alzheimer's typically appear less interested in reading, and they may occasionally read a few words out loud. The ability to communicate verbally in the late stages usually declines significantly, so it's possible that the person could be reading more than he appears to be.

Some people in the middle-to-later stages of Alzheimer's seem to enjoy paging through a familiar magazine from when they were younger, or from their career.

Others may enjoy listening to someone else read out loud, or looking through a book together.

Another comfort for some individuals with dementia is to have a few of their favorite books nearby. For people who love to read, even holding a favorite classic or religious book in their hands may bring comfort and peace.

Related Research

A research study demonstrated that people who were mentally active in their middle years had fewer beta-amyloid deposits on current brain scans. (Beta-amyloid deposits are overly present in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.) "Mentally active" was defined as including reading, writing, and playing games.

Other research has been conducted that does correlate a gradual decline in reading with a progression of dementia.

According to a study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry, researchers were able to successfully identify people with dementia based on their ability to read using the National Adult Reading Test (NART). Poorer performance on the NART correlated fairly highly with those who had a diagnosis of dementia.

Another study found that people with Alzheimer's demonstrated slower reading speed and less accurate pronunciation, among other things.

Is There a Way to Slow the Progression of Alzheimer's so I Can Continue to Enjoy Reading?

Several factors have been associated with slowing down the progression of dementia.

These include:

  • An Early Diagnosis

    Treatment with medication in the early stages of dementia has been effective in slowing the progression of the disease for some people. This can allow them to continue to enjoy activities like reading for a longer period of time.

  • Physical Exercise

    Some studies have shown that physical exercise can slow down the progression of Alzheimer's and even improve memory and other cognitive functions for a time.

  • Bright Light Therapy

    Some people in the early stages of Alzheimer's have benefited from bright light therapy and demonstrated improved cognition after this treatment.

  • Mental Activity

    Although there's no cure for Alzheimer's disease yet, take heart. Research continues to be conducted on many different ways to treat and prevent Alzheimer's and other dementias. In the meantime, remain as mentally active as possible, and keep on reading!


Alzheimer's Foundation of America. About Alzheimer's. Symptoms. Accessed December 27, 2012.

The British Journal of Psychiatry (1995) 167: 659-662. Further evidence that reading ability is not preserved in Alzheimer's disease. Accessed December 27, 2012.

Neurologia. 2012 Oct 6. pii: S0213-4853(12)00252-6. Oral reading fluency analysis in patients with Alzheimer disease and asymptomatic control subjects. Accessed December 27, 2012.

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