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Dementia patients reclaim skills thought lost through book clubs

Dementia patients are reclaiming skills thought to be lost by participating in book clubs.

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People with dementia are getting a new lease on life at book clubs. Source: 1 NEWS

Researchers have been adapting special dementia-friendly books which are helping patients read and speak - some of whom haven’t been able to do so in years.

Five books have been changed by linguist Dr Gillian Claridge and Otago University psychogeriatrician Dr Sally Rimkeit, and originally they simplified it far too much by taking out complicated words and their readers didn’t like it.

“We discovered what we’d assumed about the abilities of people with dementia was actually unfounded,” said Claridge.

While the books are much shorter - in some cases they’ve gone from approximately 30,000 words to just 3,000 - the original text is largely kept. Researchers have also replaced pronouns with the characters' name to help with memory, and each double page is a complete scene.

Claridge said that meant if someone had forgotten what happened on the previous page it didn’t matter.

File image: Person reading a book. Source: istock.com

The book club has been hugely successful, and stories include a man who had been thought to have lost his ability to speak surprise his wife by reading a poem out loud.

It’s also helping researchers learn more about dementia, which over 70,000 New Zealanders have.

Rimkeit told 1 NEWS it’s a disorder they still have questions about.

“How much of this is the brain changing? And how much is it their awareness that their starting to lose a language and then lose their confidence?” she said.

“We don’t want the book group to come into the library and go into a separate room, we want the book group to just be here as part of the library.”

Claridge says many people with dementia eventually lose their identity because they can’t remember themselves but this book club reminds them of who they are and triggers all sorts of memories.

Any volunteers wanting to start a dementia-friendly book club is encouraged to get in touch with their local library.