For older adults, volunteering could improve brain function

October 17, 2017 by Megan Liz Smith, University of Missouri-Columbia
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Older adults worried about losing their cognitive functions could consider volunteering as a potential boost, according to a University of Missouri researcher. While volunteering and its associations with physical health are well known, less has been known about its associations with mental functioning. Now, Christine Proulx, an associate professor in the Human Development and Family Science Department in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences, has identified a link between volunteering and higher levels of cognitive functioning in older adults.

"Cognitive functions, such as memory, working memory and processing are essential for living an independent life," Proulx said. "They're the tools and methods the brain uses to process information. It's the brain's working memory and processing capacity that benefit the most from volunteering."

Processing is how fast the mind is able to take in and store information. Working memory, which is different from long-term memory, is what the brain needs to temporarily store and manage information.

For this study, Proulx used national data from the Health and Retirement Study, which has been collected for the past 25 years. Looking at results from more than 11,000 adults aged 51 and over, Proulx found significant associations between cognitive function and volunteering among all participants, regardless of the amount of time volunteering. However, adults with lower levels of education and women seemed to benefit the most from volunteering.

"Prior research has shown that with lower levels of education are at greater risk of ," Proulx said. "Engaging in volunteering might compensate for some of that risk."

Proulx suggests that volunteering benefits people because it stimulates the brain. When an individual must follow directions, solve problems and be active, all of which engage the mind's working and processing.

"Longitudinal Associations Between Formal Volunteering and Cognitive Functioning" was recently published in the Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences.

Explore further: Volunteering may have benefits for memory among older adults

More information: Christine M Proulx et al. Longitudinal Associations Between Formal Volunteering and Cognitive Functioning, The Journals of Gerontology: Series B (2017). DOI: 10.1093/geronb/gbx110

Related Stories

Volunteering may have benefits for memory among older adults

October 5, 2016
A new research study has shown that volunteering regularly over time may have benefits for older adults. The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Evidence mounting that older adults who volunteer are happier, healthier

August 29, 2014
Older adults who stay active by volunteering are getting more out of it than just an altruistic feeling – they are receiving a health boost!

Volunteers are in better health than non-volunteers

March 9, 2017
Researchers of Ghent University analysed data on volunteering, employment and health of more than 40,000 European citizens. Their results, just published in PLOS ONE, show that volunteering is associated with better employment ...

Volunteering can reduce dementia risk in seniors, study finds

May 11, 2017
Seniors now have a greater incentive than ever for doing volunteer work in their retirement years, in light of a new study that shows volunteering can substantially reduce the development of dementia.

Volunteering later in life can enhance mental health and wellbeing

August 8, 2016
Becoming a volunteer later on in life can result in good mental health and wellbeing, according to researchers from the University of Southampton and the University of Birmingham.

Recommended for you

The connection between alcoholism and depression

September 21, 2018
Alcoholism and depression often go hand-in-hand.

Even toddlers weigh risks, rewards when making choices

September 21, 2018
Every day, adults conduct cost-benefit analyses in some form for decisions large and small, economic and personal: Bring a lunch or go out? Buy or rent? Remain single or start a family? All are balances of risk and reward.

Early warning sign of psychosis detected

September 21, 2018
Brains of people at risk of psychosis exhibit a pattern that can help predict whether they will go on to develop full-fledged schizophrenia, a new Yale-led study shows. The findings could help doctors begin early intervention ...

In depression the brain region for stress control is larger

September 20, 2018
Although depression is one of the leading psychiatric disorders in Germany, its cause remains unclear. A recent study at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig, Germany, found ...

Quitting junk food produces similar withdrawal-type symptoms as drug addiction

September 20, 2018
If you plan to try and quit junk food, expect to suffer similar withdrawal-type symptoms—at least during the initial week—like addicts experience when they attempt to quit using drugs.

American girls read and write better than boys

September 20, 2018
As early as the fourth grade, girls perform better than boys on standardized tests in reading and writing, and as they get older that achievement gap widens even more, according to research published by the American Psychological ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.