Good Works, Good Brain Benefits? Can Volunteering Reduce Risk of Dementia?

A study coming out of the UC Davis Health Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2023 is catching the attention of readers and gerontologists across the globe. The findings of this new study are revealing that volunteering later in life may protect the brain against cognitive decline, and even dementia. In fact, researchers found that older adults who volunteered had better memory and executive functioning than those who did not volunteer.

This study included participants from the Kaiser Healthy Aging and Diverse Life Experiences Study (KHANDLE) and the Study of Healthy Aging in African Americans (STAR). These studies are longitudinal and ongoing with older adults, 50 and better years of age.  This study particularly looked at the participants’ self-reported performance of volunteer work for a 12-month period. Executive functioning and memory were also measured across three waves. Results indicated that those who volunteered had on average higher executive functioning and memory compared to those who did not report volunteering.

In this study, volunteering was associated with significantly higher baseline cognition and memory. However, researchers believe more follow-up is needed to examine whether volunteering is protective against cognitive impairment, and how—if at all―physical and mental health may mediate this relationship.


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Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (2023). The association of late-life volunteering with cognitive function and cognitive decline in the KHANDLE and STAR cohorts.

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