A Little Volunteering Goes a Long Way . . . To Help Your Mental Function

With the number of U.S. seniors with Alzheimer’s skyrocketing, much research is underway to determine how to stave off this mental deterioration, keeping people physically and mentally sound as they age.

A recent report in the December Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences found that older women who volunteered for Experience Corps – tutoring elementary school children, had increased brain activity in regions important to cognitive function after a period of six months.

What was exciting about these results, is that it shows a direct correlation between community-based programs and improved cognitive functions. Until now, much study has been done on the brain-boosting power of cognitive, physical and social leisure activities, but little was known about the effectiveness of community-based service.

“This finding is best captured by a personal observation from one of the volunteers, who stated that ‘it [Experience Corps] removed the cobwebs from my brain.” wrote Michelle C. Carlson, of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The seventeen women enrolled in this study were low-income African-Americans with little education, aged 65 and older, and deemed high-risk for cognitive declines, based on a mental state evaluation. Eight of the women actually participated in the tutoring program in Baltimore elementary schools, while the other nine served as the control.

Via functional magnetic resonance imaging, researchers assessed neural activity in the brain prior to the volunteering experience, and again after six months. Based on the fMRI assessment, the women who actively participated in Experience Corps saw improvements in mental function compared with those in the control group.

There you have it, doing your civic duty and assisting others is highly rewarding to all participants. These meaningful activities seem to be more enriching than highly stimulating activities performed alone

26. December 2009 by Ruth Folger Weiss
Categories: Aging, Health Care | Leave a comment