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Dad, Dementia and the Kindle DX

July 29, 2011

Last fall my 76 year-old father, a big fan of electronic gadgets but not such a big fan of reading, ended up being the beneficiary of what he calls my “electronic cast-offs.” In this particular case, the item in question was my Kindle DX.

The Kindle might seem like an odd gift for my Dad, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about five years ago, but in his situation the label of Alzheimer’s doesn’t mean he can’t learn some new things.  Yes, Dad has moments when he loses his place and doesn’t remember what he’s doing or he doesn’t remember a person’s name or the chronology of events, and he likes to be reminded about what’s going to happen each day, but he continues to be able to do things that the typical Alzheimer sufferer cannot.

The dementia-related symptoms associated with my father’s condition have resulted in feelings of anxiety about making mistakes and anxiety about being in large crowds. A former pastor and addictions counselor, imbued with a passion for intellectual conversations, Dad now often chooses to stay home instead of going out into social situations, which has resulted in the shrinking of his world.

When Dad received the Kindle in the mail, he was immediately thrilled–if not a bit dubious–about trying to learn a new electronic gadget. But, after a lengthy phone call where we set up his Kindle account together, my Dad was able to download his first few books.  Later he would not remember how to get back into his Amazon account, but we dealt with that during one of my visits and since then it has not been a problem.

My Mother informs me that within two months of using the Kindle, Dad stopped using their computer and had become a voracious reader. By his own account, Dad estimates he has downloaded over 700 books–most of them free–from Amazon’s website.  During a visit for their most recent wedding anniversary, my mother noted that in the entire 50 years of their marriage, Dad rarely ever read a book unless it was related to school or work, now she says, “it’s all I hear about.”

In a recent conversation with my Dad I tried to get a sense of why the Kindle has had such an impact on him.  I wanted to understand how he had gone from occasionally paging through coffee table books or his academic readings in theology to reading novel after novel…often laughing out loud and reading excerpts of the stories to whoever happens to be near.

Dad’s response is that the Kindle has opened up a whole new world for him.  For starters, he says he never loses his place in the Kindle.  He simply turns on the Kindle and he’s right where he left off.  Another big plus he notes is that the font is adjustable and so this allows him to read quite quickly through each page.  Add to that the fact that the Kindle’s e-ink screen is easy on the eyes and he can read outdoors on the deck or in the house with no glare and you have a winning combination.

I also suspect, that unlike the computer and websites that are constantly changing—think Facebook among others—the Kindle has remained static… something that Dad can rely on being the same, day in and day out. For him, reading has opened up a whole new world that he can now access on his own terms.  And, while his world may be shrinking on the outside, the Kindle has allowed him to broaden his world on the inside and keep his mind active.




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