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October 16, 2023

Reduced Focus When Reading: 8 Tips for Individuals with Parkinson’s Disease

Reduced focus when reading, Parkinson's disease, can't concentrate, difficulty reading, can't focus on reading books, cognitive slowing

Reduced Focus When Reading: The Struggle is REAL for those with PD

Are you a book lover who’s noticing significantly reduced focus when reading? Are you finding it increasingly challenging to concentrate on the pages of your favorite novel? You’re not alone. Parkinson’s disease, a condition that affects millions of people worldwide, can bring about cognitive slowing, impacting your focus and attention while reading. But why does cognitive slowing occur in Parkinson’s and more importantly what strategies can we implement to help maintain better focus when reading?

Understanding Cognitive Slowing in Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition characterized by the loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain. While we often associate it with physical symptoms like tremors and rigidity, it can also affect cognitive functions. This cognitive slowing can manifest in various ways, including memory problems, difficulties with attention and focus, and reduced cognitive flexibility. These cognitive processes are referred to as our executive functions.

The Culprit Behind Reduced Focus When Reading

The cognitive slowing experienced in Parkinson’s is responsible for the frustrating experience of reading a sentence multiple times and still not comprehending it. It’s essential to recognize that this phenomenon of reduced focus when reading is a consequence of your brain’s altered chemistry and processing capabilities.

8 Tips to Improve Focus While Reading

As a speech-language pathologist, I’ve worked with many individuals with Parkinson’s and have seen firsthand how these strategies can help maintain focus when reading.

  1. Be Strategic with Reading Time: Identify the time of day when your concentration is at its peak. For some, it’s first thing in the morning, after a cup of coffee, or post-nap. Choose these periods for your reading sessions to maximize your focus.
  2. Reduce Auditory and Visual Distractions: Minimize disruptions by turning off radios and televisions. Find a quiet, peaceful space away from bustling household activities. Research shows that choosing the same location to read can help improve focus as it tells your brain this is a produtive spot. Interestingly, certain sounds and music can aid concentration. Explore YouTube for playlists designed to improve focus.
  3. Take Scheduled Breaks: Divide your reading into focused periods followed by intentional breaks. Set a timer for 5 minutes of reading and then enjoy a 5-minute break. Gradually extend your reading time as your focus improves.
  4. Stay Physically Active: Physical exercise plays a pivotal role in enhancing your mood, focus, and overall mental sharpness. Research has revealed that elevating your heart rate during exercise has a significant impact on enhancing concentration and memory. The positive effects of exercise on your cognitive abilities can make you an instant and more effective reader. These advantages are often immediately noticeable, so it’s advisable to engage in your reading activities promptly after physical activity.
  5. Read Aloud: Not only is reading aloud a fantastic voice exercise for Parkinson’s (remember think LOUD, CLEAR AND CONTROLLED!) it can also sharpen your focus and eliminate distractions. The act of articulating the words reinforces your comprehension and keeps your mind engaged.
  6. Use a Pointer for Your Eyes to Follow: Use a pen, a chopstick, or even your finger to slide along the lines of text as you read. This technique is remarkably effective in enhancing your concentration and maintaining a smooth reading experience. Our eyes naturally trail movement, which keeps your attention firmly fixed on the sentence you’re currently reading. Consequently, you’re less likely to drift across the page, screen, or room, reducing distractions.
  7. Practice Meditation or Mindfulness: In a world filled with constant sources of anxiety and distraction, the ability to clear your mind becomes not only a pathway to happiness but also a key to becoming a more proficient reader. In a comfortable and quiet space, you can learn to empty your mind, allowing thoughts to enter your awareness and then gracefully pass through without clinging to them. Practicing meditation or mindfulness hones your ability to concentrate, sharpening your mind and preparing it for the immersive experience of reading.
  8. Be Kind to Yourself: Remember that your focus and attention may fluctuate due to various factors, such as fatigue, anxiety, stress, life events, and medication off periods. It’s essential to be understanding and patient with yourself. If reading becomes too challenging, consider trying audiobooks to continue enjoying the magic of storytelling.

Reduced Focus When Reading: Not an Insurmountable Barrier!

While it’s a fact of life that Parkinson’s may slow your cognitive processes resulting in reduced focus when reading, it doesn’t have to dull your passion for delving into your favourite books and magazines. By implementing these strategies and being mindful of your unique needs and capabilities, you can continue to explore new worlds through the pages of your favorite books. Embrace these tips, stay positive, and remember that with a bit of adjustment and flexibility the joy of reading is always within reach.

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