‘This is such a beautiful way to bring in an element that's vital to someone's happiness.’ Professional Care Partner.

When new Care Partners consider joining Scottish Book Trust’s Reading is Caring workshops, they sometimes hesitate. They say their partner, “doesn’t remember what we read together, so there’s no point”, or, they “like to sit and hold the book, but know they’re not taking it in”. Then the age-old question of reading for pleasure comes into play. We ask, “yes, but are they enjoying it in the moment?”

We all know the comfort of settling down with a book, the excitement of glossy magazine pages ready to be explored, or a familiar place on the front of a postcard and a story on the back to connect us with loved ones.

For those who have always been readers, holding a book, feeling the weight in their hands, and turning the pages can be a connection with their identity, a sign that it’s time to destress and return to a familiar routine. Shared reading can also be an opportunity to connect with the person they’re reading with, introduce a new topic, or a way to connect with hobbies, memories, and things that were important to them in their lives.

In our Reading is Caring workshops we focus on the individual rather than the dementia. In small groups, or one-to-one, we talk through who they have always been, the changes they’re experiencing, environment, communication, how they like to read, and most importantly; what matters to them. This is why we require everyone who attends to have an existing relationship with the person they’re caring for. Whether a friend, family member or professional, we need them to be able to provide insight that, depending on the stage of the dementia, the person they’re reading with may no longer be able to do, and to be receptive as they read together.

Our recent evaluations show that Reading is Caring helps people to see the benefits of putting the person and the person caring for them at the centre. After reading together, the people living with dementia often feel more cheerful, calm, or empowered, which means the rest of their day goes better. They might worry less, speak more, eat meals or take medication more happily.

The bond between reading partners strengthens, and it’s an opportunity to care for each other beyond physical needs. One professional carer recently shared: “When we have been reading together, I think it’s going that one step deeper for me. It’s been me sharing something of me rather than ‘I have heated up this meal’.”

We also hear from care partners that it’s supportive for them too. During the sessions, we ask participants to reflect on their own needs, availability, experience of reading and interests. We know that when we put them at the centre, as well as the people they’re caring for, reading and sharing time together becomes a helpful tool, an opportunity to relax, and an opportunity to be themselves rather than a carer. With this, whether the person learns something from their reading, or remembers the experience seems less important. Sometimes they will, and sometimes they won’t. Sometimes, what the person will be left with is just a feeling of calm, a hand held, or a laugh still bubbling in their stomach.

Scottish Book Trust is a national charity that aims to support all communities across Scotland, with particular focus on those who are under-represented and most in need of our support. Free Reading is Caring workshops are available throughout Edinburgh, Lothians, Scottish Borders and Fife. Contact readingiscaring@scottishbooktrust.com or visit the Reading is Caring website.

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