This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.
A new study shows that volunteering can greatly reduce your risk of dementia. The remarkable aspect about the finding was the magnitude of the benefit received in relation to the amount of time worked. It indicates that giving back to your community just one hour per week can more than double your protection against the cognitive deterioration that plagues seniors.
The study involved 1,001 Swedish citizens who retired in 2010. The participants were divided into three categories: one group volunteered at least one hour per week, another group volunteered sporadically and a third group never volunteered. Their mental decline was monitored over a five-year period through periodic tests that assessed memory, concentration, the ability to make clear decisions and other cognitive functions. Physician diagnoses, including the prescription of dementia medications, were also documented.
Analysis of the results showed that the participants who never volunteered had a 2.4-times higher likelihood of developing dementia than those who volunteered at least one hour per week in their community. Sporadic volunteering showed no protection against mental decline.
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What endeavors could be classified as volunteer work? They include any helpful activity performed that involves no monetary compensation. “The activity has to benefit others who are not your core family. For example, helping out a church, school, library, homeless shelter or some sort of charity organization,” said lead author Yannick Griep, psychology professor at the University of Calgary in Canada.
Why Is Volunteering Beneficial?
“Work has many benefits beyond just a paycheque,” explained Griep. “It brings a structure to the day, like when we need to be up at seven and at the office by 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 and the team strongly urged seniors to volunteer at least once per week. “If you volunteer regularly, it starts to feel like a regular job and you get these benefits of work,” he said. Weekly volunteering, he added, fosters sharper cognitive abilities because it engages the mind in key ways.
“This is an important issue,” expounded Griep. “As a senior, your risk of dementia goes up substantially every year. Anything you can do that’s low cost and easy to implement that will reduce the likelihood of developing dementia is invaluable. It’s not only beneficial for the health-care system but also for those individuals who might develop dementia, as well as the family members who wind up caring for them.”
The study was published in the journal PLOS One.
The Wonder of What One Hour per Week Can Do
Perhaps the key takeaway is the substantial benefit that results from a mere one hour per week of using one’s talents to help others. The vast majority of seniors wouldn’t find this time expenditure challenging. Therefore, the broad advantages can be enjoyed by almost anyone. Based on the current study, as well as earlier research, the positive effects of volunteering encompass the entire spectrum of physical, mental, social and emotional wellness.