Volunteering has previously been found to have various physical health benefits, with those who volunteer benefiting from a reduced number of chronic conditions and a reduced risk of chronic conditions that lead to physical disability. However, less has been known about its effect on cognitive function.
Carried out by Christine Proulx at the University of Missouri in the United States, the new study has now suggested that there is a link between volunteering and higher levels of cognitive functioning in older adults, including working memory – what the brain needs to temporarily store and manage information – and processing – which is how fast the brain is able to take in and store information.
“Cognitive functions, such as memory, working memory and processing are essential for living an independent life,” explained Proulx. “They’re the tools and methods the brain uses to process information. It’s the brain’s working memory and processing capacity that benefit the most from volunteering.”
For this study Proulx gathered from more than 11,000 adults aged 51 and over. She found that there was a significant association between cognitive function and volunteering among all participants, no matter how much time they spent volunteering.
However, she also found that adults with lower levels of education and women seemed to benefit the most from volunteering. She said: “Prior research has shown that older adults with lower levels of education are at greater risk of cognitive decline. Engaging in volunteering might compensate for some of that risk.”
Proulx suggests that volunteering may have a beneficial effect on the brain as it requires an individual to engage the brain’s working memory and processing in various activities such as following directions and solving problems.
The findings can be found published online in the Journals Of Gerontology – Social Sciences. – AFP Relaxnews