Study suggests seniors who volunteer are less likely to develop dementia

Older adults who volunteer regularly substantially reduce their risk of developing dementia, according to a 2017 University of Calgary study. The five year-study, published in the medical journal PLOS One, looked at 1,000 Swedish seniors who all retired in 2010, and compared the cognitive health of those who volunteered regularly with the cognitive well-being of retirees who volunteered occasionally or not at all.

The researchers found that seniors who regularly volunteered in their communities for at least an hour a week were 2.4 times less likely to develop dementia than those who didn’t volunteer. Interestingly, retirees who only volunteered sporadically didn’t receive any benefits to their cognitive health.

Three key benefits of volunteering

Why does regular volunteering bolster cognitive health and reduce the risk of dementia?

Dr. Yannick Griep, the University of Calgary psychology researcher who led the study, believes that voluntary work offers social, cognitive and physical benefits that protect older adults from cognitive decline. All three lifestyle components—social, mental and physical activities—support cognitive health and protect against various types of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, according to The Lancet Neurology.

The University of Calgary researchers say the combination of these three benefits make volunteer work a simple, yet powerful lifestyle prescription for keeping your mind sharp. And the minimum dose is just one hour a week—whether you help out in a school, a church or synagogue, a library, a homeless shelter, or another charity organization.

The results of the study were so persuasive that Dr. Griep encouraged his own mother to start volunteer work after she recently retired and she’s been doing it ever since.

Other health benefits

As well as reducing your risk of dementia, a moderate amount of volunteer work can help reduce high blood pressure and depression, according to a University of Toronto study. Those who benefited most from volunteering were seniors with chronic health conditions, the researchers said.

Volunteering engages your mind, widens your social circle and involves physical activity, even if it’s just walking to the place where you do your volunteer work. It also feels good to know you’re making a meaningful contribution to society by helping others.

At Chartwell, our residents have the opportunity to make a difference both in their local and global communities through our H.O.P.E. (Helping Others for Purposeful Engagement) program. The program seeks to create opportunities for residents to connect with their community, which in turn promotes a sense of purpose and meaning. To learn more, click here!