There is no better feeling than knowing you helped someone that really needed it. When this aid comes from the bottom of your heart, without the expectation of payment or reward, it can provide a deep sense of satisfaction that not only makes you happy, but inspires others to do the same. This notion of giving is the basis of volunteer work and aims for people to work together out of selflessness. According to a new study, seniors who devote their time volunteering have shown a substantially reduced development of dementia, a degenerative neurological condition that is hallmarked by memory loss.
The study in question tracked 1,001 retired Swedish citizens over a period of five years, with aspects of their cognitive functioning being monitored throughout, looking for any changes. These individuals were divided into three groups based on their engagement in volunteer work. One group consistently volunteered in their respective communities for at least one hour per week, another group sporadically volunteered, and the last group never volunteered. The cognitive health of each participant was tracked at regular intervals through the use of questionnaires as well as by a physician, keeping track of any new diagnosis and use of anti-dementia medication. Aspects of memory, concentration, and decision-making were also assessed.
“We found that the people who did volunteer work for at least one hour a week on a regular basis were 2.44 times less likely to develop dementia than the seniors who didn’t volunteer,” said Yannick Griep, a psychology professor at the University of Calgary and study lead.
While an interesting result, what was more surprising is that the group that only sporadically volunteered their time did not see any benefit at all to their cognitive health, to the extent that they essentially performed just as well as those who didn’t volunteer at all. No explanation was given for this observed result, but it is speculated to be due to sporadic volunteers not receiving the latent benefits of work as do more frequent volunteers.
“It brings a structure to the day, like when we need to be up at seven and at the office for 8:30. It offers social contact with people outside of our family. It brings us the social status we get with a job title. It makes us feel like we’re making a meaningful contribution to society. And there’s a physical aspect as well, even if it’s just walking from your house to the spot where you do your volunteer work,” Griep goes on to say.
The researchers believe that by staying engaged, seniors can stay sharper cognitively because they are stimulating their minds in key ways, and they recommend the retired elderly community volunteer at least once a week.