Demos carried out research over the summer of 2018 to assess the potential impact of reading on several great challenges of our time: loneliness, mental health problems, dementia and social (im)mobility. If left unchecked, our research shows, these challenges will grow into insurmountable problems.
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Our new report explores how something as simple as reading can play a crucial role in tackling these issues. We argue the nation’s perception of reading must change. It should become a strategic social objective for us all – state, market and civil society, to work towards becoming a ‘society of readers’. Reading may not seem like a radical solution to solving some of the biggest issues of this generation, however this report proves that reading can train our brains and hold off dementia, help us foster connections with other people and alleviate loneliness and depression.
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By 2030, the loneliness epidemic will take on disastrous proportions with 7 million lonely people in the over-60 age group alone. Two million of them may expect to see their lifespans shortened by loneliness. Across other age groups, too, we expect loneliness to rise because of long-term trends towards living alone. Loneliness will also put increasing pressures on public finances. On the current trajectory, loneliness among older people will cost almost 2 billion pounds by 2030.
Could something as simple as reading truly make a difference when the scale of the issue is quite so momentous? The short answer is yes.
Many people already use reading to ward off loneliness – and usually quite successfully, as studies find that regular readers tend to be less lonely. Other research found that 95 per cent of people who are blind or partially sighted read (through an audiobook, or another technology) at least once a week to alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation.2 Books can also give groups a way to talk through their thoughts and feelings in an indirect way. The power of bookbased social contact is borne out by evaluations of reading programmes. In a national reading befriending programme including isolated and vulnerable older people, 88 per cent of participants appreciate the increased social contact from reading-inspired conversation.
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Books can train our brains and lessen the symptoms of dementia. They can help us foster connections with other readers and help alleviate loneliness or depression. They can open up new ways to fulfil our individual potential, spreading opportunity to workplaces, deprived communities and prisons. In short, it is no exaggeration to say that reading can transform British society. This report aims to show how and why we must nurture a ‘society of readers’.
Link to the rest at Demos where you’ll find a link to download the full report.
Considering the acrimony surrounding the recent US elections, PG says a society of readers sounds like an excellent idea for the United States as well as for Great Britain.