Thursday, March 15, 2018

Volunteer Work Is Good for Your Brain

Only about 25 percent of Americans volunteer,1 despite the fact that doing good for others stands to benefit everyone involved. Volunteer work is unique in that it often involves social, physical and cognitive dimensions, and research has shown that retired seniors who engage in activities that require moderate effort in two or more of these dimensions slash their risk of dementia by 47 percent.2
“An active and socially integrated lifestyle in late life protects against dementia and AD [Alzheimer’s disease],” the researchers wrote,3and volunteering is one way to achieve this. Since volunteers are needed in a seemingly endless variety of organizations, from animal shelters and schools to food pantries and youth services, there’s a volunteer opportunity to appeal to virtually everyone. It costs you nothing, save for some time, and while giving back to those around you you’ll reap impressive benefits to your brain.

Volunteering Lowers Your Risk of Cognitive Impairment and Decline

The brain benefits of volunteering are so great that researchers writing in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society suggested doctors should start writing their senior patients prescriptions for volunteer work. They found that in individuals aged 60 and over, volunteering regularly decreased the risk of cognitive impairment over a 14-year period:4
“Consistent civic engagement in old age is associated with lower risk of cognitive impairment and provides impetus for interventions to protect against the onset of cognitive impairment. Given the increasing number of baby boomers entering old age, the findings support the public health benefits of volunteering and the potential role of geriatricians, who can promote volunteering by incorporating ‘prescriptions to volunteer’ into their patient care.”
Separate research published in The Journal of the Economics of Ageing similarly revealed that taking part in volunteer work “significantly forestalls” the progress of cognitive decline in people aged 60 years and older.5 "Volunteering is a pathway through which you can increase brain activity," Michelle Carlson, associate professor in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told AARP.6 Carlson co-wrote a small study of older women who were at high risk of cognitive decline. (MORE)


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