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Fighting Alzheimer’s Disease With Books

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Ann-Marie Cahill


Ann-Marie Cahill will read anything and everything. From novels to trading cards to the inside of CD covers (they’re still a thing, right?). A good day is when her kids bring notes home from school. A bad day is when she has to pry a book from her kids’ hands. And then realizes where they get it from. The only thing Ann-Marie loves more than reading is travelling. She has expensive hobbies.

Reading this article is good for your health. I mean, most of us enjoy reading for pleasure. Some of us have to read for work (and sometimes enjoy that too). But to know reading this article is good for your health? No, it is not an exaggeration. Right now, this is the topic of medical research: whether reading may prevent Alzheimer’s Disease, and how.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Short version: It’s a nasty disease that slowly but surely destroys all of the cognitive pathways in your brain.

Long version: it is a disease characterised by the build-up of protein or calcification preventing the connections or neural “pathways” created within your brain. Initially, it interferes with the formation of memories, like forgetting someone’s name or what school you went to. Pop culture portrays it as severe forgetfulness, to the point of forgetting people…but it is so much more than that.

Our memories are an integral part of our identity. Alzheimer’s Disease is a chronic neurodegenerative disease, unrelenting in its progression all over your brain as it blocks every attempt you make to recall memories. A memory does not define us. It is the process of recalling a memory which contributes to who we are.

Eventually, you will forget integral parts of your personality; what makes you you. Your brain will no longer make the connection to memories of your family, of any family…or even what a family is. You will forget how to walk, how to go to the toilet, how to eat. Make no mistake: Alzheimer’s Disease is terminal. In the United States, it is the sixth leading cause of death. And with our aging population, it is becoming more prolific each year.

Is Alzheimer’s disease preventable?

Okay, so that was a bit heavy. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s Disease is serious enough to warrant some “heavy” in the storytelling. But it’s not all doom-and-gloom.

The good news is we have new tests to detect Alzheimer’s Disease earlier than ever before. This is thanks to ongoing research into the causes and indicators associated with the disease. Now we know the disease is caused by a plaque, rather than simply damaged brain cells as previously thought. And the more we know about what causes it, the more we learn about how to prevent it.

The bad news is we have no definitive instruction on how to prevent it. There are plenty of theories, many of them with some serious research behind them. For example, recent studies have shown a strong link between sugar and the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.  Unfortunately, nothing is 100% guaranteed but we are learning more methods every day. Some of them are regular activities we do every day. For example, reading.

How does reading help?

Reading is one activity strongly recommended to keep Alzheimer’s Disease at bay. And it makes sense. We all know reading keeps your brain active. It’s a muscle. As you read you make connections, both within the book and between the book and your real life. Each of those connections is an exercise.

reading may prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

Image and quote courtesy of BBC / Doctor Who

The catch is: you have to build more connections. You can’t keep exercising the same ones over and over again. Remember that protein building up in your brain? It is unrelenting and it will take over that particular neural pathway. The trick is to ensure you have created multiple neural pathways to access the same memory. As one path is interrupted, your brain is able to access the memory through an alternative path.

What is the Best Book to Read to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?

The best book is the one you are reading right now. I know that sounds like I’m avoiding the issue, but studies show any reading will contribute towards the cause.

However, the best results are achieved from challenging books. Reading may prevent Alzheimer’s Disease, but only if you are constantly challenging yourself with the subject material. You can’t be reading only Anne of Green Gables all day long. Well, you can, but it is not going to achieve the effect you are looking for.

You have to dial it up a notch. If you love period books, try something from Jane Austen. Read some non-fiction history books about Prince Edward Island. Or if you are in love with the personality and storytelling of that red-head girl, look for the same vibrancy in another genre. Say, Nancy Drew or Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series. Try some crime novel variations. Maybe speculative science fiction. And if you really want to take your reading to the extreme, try reading your favourite book in a foreign language: Anne of Green Gables in French.

Hey look, I’ve given you reasons to go and read more books! See, I told you there was good news.

Is there a cure?

Damn. Bad news again: There is no cure yet…but the research is ongoing. The more we learn about Alzheimer’s Disease, the closer we are to curing it. Until that day, we can only rely on the research at hand. If we know what causes Alzheimer’s Disease, then we can work at preventing it. And if something you love makes that easier, you go for it.

If reading may prevent Alzheimer’s Disease, then read forever and a day!