Great news for those interested in aging well; a new UC Davis study found an association between volunteering late in life and better cognitive function. Cognitive functions are mental processes like memory, attention, learning, and verbal fluency. While there are uncontrollable factors like genetics and age which contribute to cognitive decline, volunteering is a simple intervention within our control.
Who’s at Risk for Early Cognitive Decline
Currently an estimated 6.7 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s; a progressive mental deterioration that can occur in middle or old age and a common cause of premature senility. Almost two thirds are women. By 2050, the number of people with Alzheimer’s could grow to as many as 12.7 million. Older Black Americans and older Hispanic Americans are 2 times and 1.5 times, respectively, more likely to have Alzheimer’s as White older Americans. A family history can also contribute to our risk.
The Study and the Findings
Researchers at UD Davis examined the volunteer activities of 2,476 older Americans. The study participants were both ethnically and racially diverse with an average age of 74. Researchers discovered volunteering was associated with better scores on an executive function and verbal memory test. In fact, those with the greatest number of volunteer hours had the highest levels of executive function.
While more research needs to be completed to draw a direct relationship, the research shows it’s likely that volunteer activities, such as supporting charitable organizations, allow older adults to be more physically, socially, and cognitively active. The next step for the UC Davis research team is to look beyond the association to examine whether volunteering is directly protective against cognitive impairment.
How to practically apply this helpful information is pretty simple; just get out there and volunteer. Your volunteering can be any activity that keeps you active, social, and thinking. You can join an organization or find opportunities to help friends, family, and neighbors on your own. Be encouraged knowing that volunteering not only offers the opportunity to improve your community but also to age well.
University of California – Davis Health. (2023, July 20). Volunteering in late life may protect the brain against cognitive decline and dementia. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 7, 2023 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/07/230720124958.htm