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Beatles book helps people with dementia rediscover joy of reading

by Editor

Brian, who inspired Matt to launch Cognitive Books, and wife Colleen

Brian, who inspired Matt to launch Cognitive Books, and wife Colleen (Image: Matt Singleton)

A book specially designed for people with dementia has gone on sale to help thousands rediscover the joy of reading. Key features include pages that make sense without needing to remember the overall storyline, simple text and thicker paper to help with turning pages.

Looking Back At…The Beatles was created by Matt Singleton after his dad Brian lost his passion for reading following a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

Matt, 49, said: “All my memories really – apart from dad working very had and loving his football – are him being on holiday and reading, always having a book in his hand.

“It made me sad that Dad wasn’t reading anymore. I wrote him a very simple book with some rhyme and rhythm about his 1950s rock and roll heroes.

“Six months later, my stepmum Colleen said to me: ‘He doesn’t put it down, he reads it all the time.’”

READ MORE: Sugar cravings could be early warning sign of dementia, research shows

Inventor Matt with dad Brian

Brian loved the first books son Matt designed for him (Image: Matt Singleton)

Matt has a background in gerontology, the study of ageing. He developed his idea into a book that charts The Beatles’ life story from Hamburg in the 1960s until their split.

Following encouragement from leading dementia experts, he successfully applied to join the Alzheimer’s Society’s Accelerator Programme.

The dad-of-two received funding and worked with experts and people with dementia to perfect the book’s design and launch his publishing company, Cognitive Books.

He hopes to publish a second title later this year, with possible future topics including popular films, TV shows and sports. Matt said seeing the five-year project come to fruition was “very moving”.

He added: “I’ve learnt so much and met so many wonderful people with so much experience. People with dementia have so many beautiful stories to tell.

Pages of the book

Matt spent five years developing the book alongside experts and people with dementia (Image: Matt Singleton)

“It would be wonderful if we could help as many people with dementia as possible and bring the joy of reading to people who are struggling, who have lost that from their lives.

“The dream is to have as many titles as possible for as many people as possible.”

A small survey for the project suggested as many as 62 percent of people read less or gave up reading entirely after a dementia diagnosis. Of those, 70 percent said they would be read more if stories were easier to follow.

The book’s features also include paper and font colours that make reading easier for those with eyesight issues, guidance for loved ones supporting the reader, and an audio version narrated by Bill Nighy.

The actor, 74, said he was”grateful to be given an opportunity to help in any small way with this dreadful condition that afflicts so many of us directly or indirectly”.

He added: “I hope these books can be a valuable addition to the treatment already in place and bring the same satisfaction that they might in normal circumstances. I salute those involved in this project.” 

Brian still cherishes the prototype book his son gifted to him on Father’s Day in 2022. Matt said: “Just a few weeks ago, we suddenly discovered he could recite one of the passages from the book.

“Bearing in mind my dad can’t remember what he had for breakfast, or what he did 15 minutes before, we were pleasantly surprised by that. It was a wonderful moment.”

Martina Davis has posterior cortical atrophy (PCA), a rare form of dementia, and was part of a group that helped test and develop the final version of the book.

Her condition means her symptoms and reading abilities vary week-to-week. She said: “Sometimes lines and words can swap themselves around.

“Paragraphs can fall down the page. Then, other weeks I’ll find that I can read something absolutely fine.

“Colours are really important for someone with dementia. With the final version of the book the colours are popping and I’d want to grab it straight off the shelf.

“It’s comfortable for me to look at, and having the accompanying audio with Bill Nighy is helpful for me on the days I’m struggling to read.”

Professor Gill Livingston, an expert in psychiatry of older people at UCL, was one of the first to recognise the project’s potential.

She said: “Most people with dementia can read but there are few books designed specifically for them.

“Cognitive Books are written for the needs of people with dementia. They have the potential to give pleasure and may help improve social functioning.”

Cognitive Books will donate five percent of all sales to Alzheimer’s Society. The charity’s Accelerator Programme offers up to £100,000 funding for innovations to support people with dementia.

Looking Back At…The Beatles is available from bookstores or online here.

Matt’s book is an important innovation for people with dementia, says SIMON LORD

Cognitive Books is one of the groundbreaking products Alzheimer’s Society has invested in to directly benefit people living with dementia as part of the charity’s Accelerator Programme.

It is designed to support people to boost new dementia products and innovations to market, delivering help and hope to people living with dementia.

The collaboration with Cognitive Books demonstrates the positive impact there can be when expertise, dedication and a shared vision come together.

As one in three people born today will develop dementia in their lifetime, Alzheimer’s Society is committed to developing a product for every person at every stage of the condition.

We worked with Cognitive Books to provide funding to help get the initial idea to market.

The charity also organised regular focus groups with people living with dementia to help co-produce “Looking back at…The Beatles” and define the format of future Cognitive Books as well as supporting Matt with events to develop his skills as an entrepreneur.

Other products Alzheimer’s Society has supported include Jelly Drops, award-winning bite-sized sweets designed to increase your water intake; HUG™, a soft comforter designed to be cuddled; and Sibstar which allows people with dementia to remain financially independent whilst offering advanced financial security.

Anyone with a great product or innovation to improve the lives of people with dementia can apply for funding and support through the Alzheimer’s Society innovative Accelerator Programme. Visit alzheimers.org.uk/accelerator

– Simon Lord is head of innovation at Alzheimer’s Society

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