Volunteering Helps Your Community, Those in Need, and Your Memory? Study Finds Brain Benefits

Volunteering in your golden years has plenty of benefits, from boosting your mental health and helping you socialize more, to giving you a sense of purpose. Another benefit to tack on? Possible protection against dementia.

New research, presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2023, has found that volunteering in late life is linked with improved cognitive function, particularly in the areas of executive function and certain types of memory.

Senior man and two young men planting trees

The findings came from data involving 2,476 seniors participating in the Kaiser Healthy Aging and Diverse Life Experiences Study and the Study of Healthy Aging in African Americans. The group was comprised of a variety of ethnic backgrounds, with 48% Black, 20% white, 17% Asian, and 14% Latino participants. In all, 1,167 said they’d volunteered within the prior year.

The study showed that among these volunteers, there were better baseline scores on tests of executive function, with the highest scores coming from those who volunteered several days a week. For volunteers, there were also higher scores related to verbal episodic memory, which is the ability to recall events that have happened to you. This was true despite factors including age, sex, education, and income.

Donna McCullough, Alzheimer’s Association chief mission and field operations officer, says, “We hope these new data encourage individuals of all ages and backgrounds to engage in local volunteering — not only to benefit their communities, but potentially their own cognitive and brain health.”

Woman volunteering as trash collector in park

Going forward, the team says they’ll be exploring whether volunteering protects against cognitive impairment and if physical and mental health may play a role in the benefits of volunteering.

Until then, keep in mind that the park cleanup, senior meal delivery, or weekly help at the local animal shelter may be doing you some good, too.

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