After years of research, scientists are starting to understand the causes and triggers of dementia. They’ve issued many recommendations over the years: exercise, maintain a healthy weight, control your blood pressure, etc. Now there’s a surprising new suggestion: volunteer regularly.
Volunteering is Good for your Brain
A new study out of Indiana University found that volunteering for just two hours a week can improve brain function. The study author, Sumedha Gupta, said, “We find that as people volunteer, their cognitive health scores improve. If they don’t volunteer, their cognitive scores decline faster.”
Gupta studied 64,000 individuals over 60 who participated in the 12-year University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study. She discovered that older adults who volunteer for 100 hours a year scored 6% higher in cognitive tests than those who did not volunteer. The study shows that just a couple of hours of volunteering a week can prevent the cognitive decline that comes with aging.
But another study goes even further. Released last year by University of Calgary, it demonstrated that consistently volunteering can actually make you less likely to develop dementia. This study, led by Yannick Griep, followed Swedish retirees for five years. The results showed that volunteering just an hour a week made the participants nearly 2.5 times less likely to need dementia treatments.
There are caveats to that, though. In order to see a benefit, you need to volunteer consistently. Sporadic volunteering showed no advantage over not volunteering at all. In addition, not all types of volunteer work are equal. “The activity has to benefit others who are not your core family,” Griep said. “For example, helping out a church, a school, a library, a homeless shelter or some sort of charity organization.”
Why Volunteering Works
After retirement, many people suddenly find themselves with nothing to do. Loneliness and depression may set in. Becoming involved in volunteer work lends a clear purpose to life, lifts your spirits, and makes you feel good about yourself. Plus, the social, physical, and mental activity helps keep your brain sharp.
How to Volunteer as a Senior
There are many different ways to involve yourself with charity and community work at any age. You don’t need to be physically fit to volunteer. Consider tutoring disadvantaged children, teaching English to immigrants, or helping at church events. Your local library, food bank, school system, or hospital are also great places to offer your services.
As a senior, you have a lot of life experience and wisdom to share with others. You may have a special skill you can use to brighten the live’s of others. Go help people—and remember: you’re helping your brain too.