Reading Aloud to Seniors: Top 10 Tips
by Lucy E.M. Black
Several years ago, when a family member was hospitalized and in a great deal of pain, I was striving to find something that would comfort her. In desperation, I picked up a Gideon Bible and began to read aloud from the Psalms. Occasionally she requested specific numbers, but as the pain worsened, she was content for me to simply read until she fell asleep. The woman in the next bed was a delightful, if somewhat irascible, character. She complained loudly about everything in quite colorful language, but I noticed, with some surprise, that she too seemed to be lulled by the sound of my reading.
Reading aloud to an older person was new to me. And, to be truthful, it felt a little awkward, even though I knew it was soothing. Fast forward several years, and I now read aloud at a local nursing home once a week and have formed a sort of ‘book club.’ The experience of doing so is always one of the highlights in my week. Along the way, I have learned a number of things about the benefits of reading aloud to seniors—both for them and for me.
Personally, I have discovered that reading to seniors has allowed me to regularly interact with a lovely group of individuals who have had interesting, full and rich lives. I would never have met them were it not for our little book club. I love that they show up week after week, beautifully coiffed and accessorized, and eager to hear the next installment. There is always something exciting to talk about and share, and it makes our time together fly by. I feel privileged that they choose to make our book club a priority in their lives.
For them also, I know there are some positive offshoots. It appears that there are cognitive advantages for seniors who are read to. The act of concentration is beneficial to them as is the stimulation of memory and creativity. Socially, any opportunity to congregate and engage in shared pursuits also has strong benefits. Many seniors are troubled by declining vision or other complicating issues that make independent reading a challenge. Facilitating their reading in any number of ways can be a real gift. If you regularly visit a loved one, consider sharing a book or a magazine article with them. You will be creating an intimate and enjoyable experience to share. Reading aloud can lessen the burden of finding topics of conversation and will contribute an additional dimension to your visits.
A couple of tips for reading to seniors, that I have found to be helpful.
- Remove or eliminate as many detractions as possible, particularly things like a television, even if it’s been muted;
- Don’t be self-conscious, as it will only make your audience uncomfortable;
- Project your voice slightly louder than you would normally use in a conversation;
- Pace your reading, so there is time for the audience to fully process what is being read;
- Use the punctuation (i.e., commas and periods) as opportunities to breathe and pause briefly for absorption and processing time;
- Signal a flashback or change in narrative voice by announcing it;
- Modulate your voice to include expressive dialogue;
- Recap every few pages to ensure the story line is being followed and create anticipation for the next event to unfold;
- Begin every new reading, if it’s a continuation from a prior reading, with a thorough recap, including re-reading the last page;
- End the reading with informal questions, commentary, and dialogue about what has just been read. Try to engage your audience in a reflective conversation.
The gift of reading is a truly meaningful one and I would encourage you to share this special experience if you are ever presented with an opportunity!
Lucy E.M. Black is the author of The Marzipan Fruit Basket, a collection of short stories (Inanna Publications) and Eleanor Courtown, a work of historical fiction (Seraphim Editions). Her award-winning short stories have been published in Britain, Ireland, the US, and Canada in literary journals and magazines. She is a dynamic workshop presenter, experienced interviewer and freelance writer. She lives with her partner in a small lakeside town north-east of Toronto. Her new novel, Stella’s Carpet (Now or Never Publishing), will be released in October 2021.