By Chris Hohol, Director of Operations, Senescence Life Sciences
Hopefully you’re already well into our 30 Day Better Brain Challenge, as part of supporting World Alzheimer’s Month in September. There are many different daily activities that we encourage you to try that are beneficial for your brain health. However, we wanted to take an opportunity to focus on one in particular – volunteering.
A study published in PLOS One in March 2017 by the University of Calgary (which also happens to be the Alma matter of our very own Dr. Shawn Watson) showed that doing regular volunteer work can significantly reduce the development of dementia in seniors. To be considered volunteer work, the activity must have been done out of free will, for no monetary gain and for the benefit of those who would not be considered as immediate family.
The study involved roughly 1000 retirees who were administered regular questionnaires involving cognitive factors such as memory, decision making, and concentration, and were also regularly monitored by a physician. Based on this, the study concluded that people who regularly volunteered for at least one hour per week were 2.44 times less likely to develop dementia than those who didn’t volunteer at all.
Interestingly enough, people who volunteered but not on a regular basis saw no change to their risk of developing dementia, just like those who didn’t volunteer at all. Researchers in the study were unable to determine why this was the case.
Why would volunteering help to prevent dementia?
Study lead and psychology professor at the University of Calgary Yannick Griep explains it best:
“It brings 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.”
Volunteering is unique because it creates a wide range of overlapping benefits, including social interaction, physical activity and a sense of purpose. Some aspects of volunteerism may resonate more with you than others, but it’s clear why volunteering can have such a positive impact on your brain health and reduce your risk of developing dementia.
There are likely plenty of volunteering activities near you that you can try, such as helping out at your child’s school, at a local homeless or animal shelter or for a charity group that you support. If you’re based here in Singapore, September also happens to be National Senior Volunteer Month (NSVM).
National Senior Volunteer Month in Singapore
Hosted by Retired and Senior Volunteer Programme (RSVP) Singapore, NSVM aims to encourage seniors to continue to stay active and involved by bringing their expertise to a variety of different volunteering efforts in Singapore. This year’s NSVM theme just happens to be “Retire with a Purpose – Volunteer!”, a fitting theme, given the positive impact we now know volunteering also has on preventing dementia in retirees.
Senescence Life Sciences is proud to sponsor this year’s NSVM Opening Ceremony starting at 9:00am on September 9th at ITE College Central. Our founder and CEO Dr. Shawn Watson will be doing a free talk on brain health and we encourage all to attend, as well as to also check out some of the other free talks, seminars and workshops that are taking place during the day.
If you’re participating in our 30 Day Better Brain Challenge you may have also noticed September 9th‘s brain healthy activity – to sign up for volunteering opportunities in your area. So be sure to join us at the National Senior Volunteer Month event and see what volunteer opportunities are waiting for you!
Volunteering is an easy and thoughtful way to give back to your community and help those in need. Regular volunteering is also a great way to keep your brain in tip top shape and reduce your risk of developing dementia. We can strengthen our minds and our communities by volunteering, with the added benefit of a happier and more caring world for all.
Griep, Y., et al. Can volunteering in later life reduce the risk of dementia? A 5-year longitudinal study among volunteering and non-volunteering seniors. PLOS ONE. March 16, 2017 Doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0173885.
MedicalXpress. Volunteering can reduce dementia risk in seniors, study finds, https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-05-volunteering-dementia-seniors.html (2017).
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