Gifting Books to Children for a Stronger Mind in Later Years

A stack of books on display at the UVic Bookstore

Do you have a child on your shopping list this holiday season? Consider gifting a book. Access to books in childhood may provide enhanced cognitive health throughout adulthood.

By the year 2050, it is estimated that dementia cases will triple, surpassing 150 million cases worldwide. As there is no known cure, identifying factors that may delay the onset of cognitive impairment is imperative. Various factors such as education, physical activity, and engaging in mentally stimulating activities appear to support cognitive resilience. However, little research has been done on childhood circumstances.

Past IALH Postdoctoral Fellow Nathan Lewis (Psychology) and former IALH Student Affiliate Tomiko Yoneda have recently published findings from a study exploring how access to books in childhood can support cognitive resilience in later adulthood. Scott Hofer, past IALH Director, was also a member of the research team.

For this study, the research team used data from the Survey of Health, Aging, and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), a longitudinal study that began in 2004. Participants had to be 60 years old at the beginning of the study, with at least two assessment points, and demographic and retrospective life-history information.

Participants were asked to remember and share how many books were in their homes when they were 10 years old (5 categories ranging from “none or very few” to “enough to fill two bookshelves”). They were then asked the same question four years later with most participants providing a similar answer.

Cognitive function was measured using a modified version of the Telephone Interview of Cognitive Status (TICS). The modified TICS used in this study involved various tasks to assess different aspects of cognitive function. These tasks included:
a) Word Recall Tasks: Participants were asked to recall a 10-word list immediately and after a delay.
b) Date Orientation: Participants were tested on their orientation to date, including the year, month, day, and day of the week.
c) Verbal Fluency Task: Participants were required to name as many animals as possible within a 60-second period.

Key findings from this study included:

  • Having more access to books at age 10 was linked to a lower chance of developing cognitive impairment.This relationship held true even after accounting for age, sex, education, and childhood socioeconomicstatus
  • Overall life expectancies were comparable for individuals who reported a high number of books and those with a low number of books in their childhood homes. However, those with higher access to childhood books tended to spend a greater proportion of their overall life expectancy without experiencing cognitive impairment.
  • Policies or community efforts to increase access to such reading materials during childhood may assist in promoting cognitive resilience across the lifespan.

The team has created an infographic to illustrate their findings. The infographic can be found here.

To read the full article, see