Dyslexia and Older People
Lois Gladdish suggests that more research is needed
'I could not read when I left school so I taught myself to read; as a result of attending family literacy at school I found out that I was dyslexic. This was a relief because it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Finding out about the dyslexia I became determined to improve my literacy and joined several classes at school and college. I have overcome my difficulties because of the tutors' encouragement and reassurance. I have been able to write my own Christmas cards for the first time, it was a lovely feeling, it really felt good.' 65-year-old female; nominee for Senior Learner of the Year
'I was unable to read and write and, at the age of 60, I decided I couldn't carry on like that. I couldn't go shopping properly or go to the library, for example. I was unable to function normally. If I couldn't find someone to help me with letters or bills, I just threw them in the bin. I never really did overcome my difficulties before I came to college. I have enjoyed meeting new people. My learning has made me much more confident. For the first time I can express myself in writing. When I came to college I said I wanted to write a book about myself. I have now done this. Although the book itself is only small, it has been a major achievement for me. I can also now do things like buy a TV guide and see what will be on TV. Little things like this make all the difference in the world to me.' 60-year-old male; nominee for Senior Learner of the Year
There has been a good deal of research into dyslexia but very little of it relates to how dyslexia affects older people. But, just as for the young, dyslexia in older people affects not only their literacy and numeracy skills but may also affect their quality of life, independent living, decision-making, and ability to access vital services and benefits. These difficulties, when combined with mobility or financial constraints, can lead to isolation or exclusion.
The assessment of dyslexia in older adults can be complex as they may have developed coping strategies to compensate for the difficulties they experience. In addition, they may have poor eyesight and/or hearing, as well as medical conditions that affect their processing of information and their memory. Dyslexia may also affect the diagnosis of other conditions, because of its impact on working memory, motor skills, concentration etc. All these need to be taken into account during assessment.
Younger adults who are assessed as dyslexic receive support either through participating in learning, or in connection with their workplace. Older adults who are engaged in learning tend to take part in informal or community-based learning. This provision often has less welldeveloped dyslexia support, so older adults find it more difficult to access dyslexia support services.
More research is needed, asking some of the following questions.
■ Do older people have different barriers to accessing dyslexia services compared
with other adults?
■ What is the range of teaching and other support available for older adult learners with dyslexia?
■ Do older people need assessment approaches different from those for other adults with dyslexia?
■ What is the impact of dyslexia on older adults' attitudes to and experiences of learning?
■ What impact does dyslexia have on older people's quality of life and confidence?
Lois Gladdish is Information Officer, Older & Bolder, at NIACE*