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  • Writer's pictureElla

Children with more books at home have less mental decline when older

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

The New Scientist magazine interviewed me for an article about our new paper.

The paper, led by Dr. Galit Weinstein and co-authored with Noam Damri, shows that children who grow up in homes filled with books tend to have less cognitive decline when they reach old age, even when taking factors such as wealth and education into account. The finding suggests that early cognitive enrichment has long-lasting protective effects on the brain.

From the article:

"Previous studies have found that children with large home libraries are more likely to do well at school and in their later careers. Ella Cohn-Schwartz at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel and her colleagues wondered whether the benefits of early book exposure extend into old age.

They analysed data from more than 8000 men and women aged 65 and older without Alzheimer’s disease in 16 European countries, who had taken memory tests in 2011 and 2013 as part of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe. The tests included trying to memorise lists of words and naming as many animals as possible in 1 minute.

Participants were asked to recall roughly how many books their family homes contained when they were children: no books, one shelf (about 25 books), one bookcase (about 100 books), two bookcases or more.

Those who grew up with larger book collections performed better in all memory tests. They also showed slower cognitive decline, with a smaller dip in their test scores between 2011 and 2013.

This may be because their early book exposure encouraged them to read more, which in turn boosted their “cognitive reserve”, says Cohn-Schwartz. Intellectually stimulating activities like reading are known to create extra connections in the brain that buffer it against degenerative processes like those seen in Alzheimer’s disease."

Weinstein, G., Cohn-Schwartz, E., & Damri, N. (2021). Book-Oriented Environment in Childhood and Current Cognitive Performance among Old-Aged Europeans. Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, 1-9.

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