They may say they'd rather read on paper, but one study found that for adults between the ages of 60 and 77, reading on digital devices such as tablets causes less strain on the brain.
The study, conducted by a German university, measured the brain power, or neural effort, required by readers to process information on three different types of media: paper, e-book readers, and backlit devices such as tablets.
Young and older adults alike said they preferred reading on paper. But when testers compared readers' eye movements and brain activity as they read, older adults had an easier time reading on backlit devices such as tablets.
Younger readers, ages 21 and 34, showed similar eye movements and EEG measures of brain activity across the three media. But readers in the older group showed lower brain activity when using a tablet computer, as compared to the two other methods. The study's conclusion: The effect is "likely due to better text discrimination on the backlit displays." Sensitivity to contrast decreases in older readers, according to the study, and so a tablet display's enhanced contrast may help.
If you're thinking of getting a tablet for an older reader, also bear in mind that they can adjust the font size and the screen's brightness. E-reader apps add even more font adjustability, with Amazon's app allowing the largest type size, around 35 percent larger than rival Barnes & Noble's app allows. Check out our buying guide and Ratings for tablets.
However, Consumer Reports testers have found that multipurpose devices such as tablets are generally less suited to e-book reading than dedicated readers: Their LCD screens typically display type less crisply than e-book reader screens, they run for hours on a charge rather than days, and they're more prone to wash out in bright light. And not insignificantly, e-book readers are lighter than tablets. Take a look at our e-book reader buying guide for more information.