Volunteering beneficial to cognitive health in older adults: study

Decreased symptoms of depression, increased longevity amongst findings

If you’re an older adult and you want to maintain good cognition and other health benefits, consider volunteering.

According to new research from the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences, volunteering is associated with fewer symptoms of depression, enhanced overall health, fewer functional limitations and increased longevity in older adults.

Dr. Nicole Anderson, the study’s lead investigator, says the research team conducted the study to develop a comprehensive picture of the benefits of volunteering in older adults. The team consisted of researchers from Canada and the U.S.

The basis of the researchers’ findings comes from 73 studies published over a 45-year span that examined adults aged 50-plus who were volunteering.

The study’s findings were published online last week in Psychological Bulletin.

“We discovered a number of trends in the results that paint a compelling picture of volunteering as an important lifestyle component for maintaining health and well-being in later years,” says Anderson, a senior scientist with Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute and associate professor at the University of Toronto.

According to the research team’s findings, volunteering can be especially beneficial to older adults living with chronic health conditions. Volunteering, researchers say, helps people feel better about themselves, which contributes to enhanced psychosocial well-being.

“Taken together, these results suggest that volunteering is associated with health improvements and increased physical activity — changes that one would expect to offer protection against a variety of health conditions,” Anderson says.

According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, 747,000 Canadians are living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia; this number is expected to increase to 1.4 million by 2031. The society also estimates 57 per cent of long-term care home residents are living with some form of cognitive impairment.

Given the prevalence of dementia, the research team says it would like to see more studies conducted examining the relationship between volunteering and cognitive health.

“We encourage investigators to include more objective measures of cognitive functioning in future studies,” scientists write in the report. “Particularly interesting would be the inclusion of a more comprehensive battery of neuropsychological tests, so that the association of volunteering with the risks of various forms of dementia and its precursor, mild cognitive impairment, could be ascertained.”

OMNI Health Care is always looking for people interested in volunteering. If you would like more information on how to become a volunteer at an OMNI home, please call 705-748-6631.

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