Volunteering for a healthy mind in later life

Retirement often brings with it the freedom to decide how you want to spend your time. Rather than opting for a leisurely life, many older adults find meaning and cognitive benefits in volunteering. Recent research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference emphasises the positive effects of volunteering on brain health.

The study focused on a diverse group of participants, 44% of whom did not have a university degree and represented different racial and ethnic backgrounds. The results show that volunteering is associated with an improvement in cognitive function, regardless of age, gender, education or income. Key aspects such as executive function (which includes mental processes such as planning and attention) and verbal episodic memory (the ability to remember details from stories or lists of words) showed remarkable improvement in regular volunteers. Those who volunteered several times a week had the highest executive function scores.

Volunteering is a mental workout that addresses memory, verbal skills and reasoning. The positive effects go beyond the cognitive benefits, as it provides a sense of purpose and meaningful connections. Experts suggest that the social contact, physical activity and positive feelings associated with volunteering contribute to its positive impact on brain health.

For those considering volunteering, there are numerous opportunities in hospitals, museums, food banks or online platforms. Even minimal involvement in volunteering can contribute to brain health, so it’s important to find something fun and personally satisfying.

The research mentioned in this article was conducted as part of the Kaiser Healthy Ageing and Diverse Life Experiences Study and the Study of Health Ageing in African Americans. The findings were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC), a leading event for the advancement of dementia research. The AAIC is a global initiative that brings together researchers, clinicians and dementia experts to share groundbreaking discoveries in the field.

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