It’s actually true—reading Shakespeare can help prevent some forms of dementia. British neurologist Oliver Sacks has a wealth of experience, experiments, and anecdotes that show how you can challenge your brain to improve cognitive fitness:
“To what extent are we shaped by, and to what degree do we shape, our own brains? And can the brain’s ability to change be harnessed to give us greater cognitive powers? The experiences of many people suggest that it can. . . . While it is often true that learning is easier in childhood, neuroscientists now know that the brain does not stop growing, even in our later years. Every time we practice an old skill or learn a new one, existing neural connections are strengthened and, over time, neurons create more connections to other neurons. Even new nerve cells can be generated.”
—Oliver Sacks, “This Year, Change Your Mind,” in The New York Times, December 31, 2010
How does this relate to Shakespeare? Reading Shakespeare's language makes our brains work in different ways than they're accustomed to, which forces our brains to create new pathways for understanding. EEGs show that when reading Shakespeare, having to process the unusual use of language, plus the odd construction of the lines written to fit into the iambic pentameter rhythm, excites positive brain activity. For instance, your brain has to work a wee bit harder to re-order the words in this line into a more typical order so we can understand it:
Words, to the heat of deeds, too cold breath gives. —Macbeth
Working at it regenerates your brain! See the [fake] charts on iReadShakespeare.org for a fun chart to share that shows how reading Shakespeare can improve your brain! Have you felt any difference in your brain since you started reading Shakespeare—out loud and in community? Tell us about it.