Dementia patients – or those at risk of brain decline – are commonly told to add oily fish to their diet and learn another language.
But there is another activity scientists believe could help ward off symptoms such as memory loss – volunteering.
According to a new study by the University of Missouri, lending your time and energy to help others could improve cognitive function in older adults.
While previous research had showed a connection between volunteering and physical health, this is the first time it has been linked to mental functioning.
It is thought that volunteering, which often involves following directions, solving problems and being active, stimulates the brain.
The benefits discovered in the research, that was published in the Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences, were particularly prominent in women.
“Cognitive functions, such as memory, working memory, and processing are essential for living an independent life,” said Christine Proulx, from the University of Missouri.
“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.”
Working memory – the brain’s ability to temporarily store and manage information – can be impacted as people get older.
Many dementia sufferers find their working memory suffers first, while their long-term memory – such as experiences in childhood or as young adults – tends to stay intact for slightly longer.
Processing capacity, which the study also found to benefit, is how fast the mind is able to take in and store information.
Dementia sufferers can find it increasingly difficult to process new information, and their responses may become delayed.
The researchers looked at the impact of volunteering on the brains of 11,000 adults aged 51 and over.
They found it benefited participants, regardless of the amount of time spent doing it.
“Prior research has shown that older adults with lower levels of education are at greater risk of cognitive decline,” said Proulx.
“Engaging in volunteering might compensate for some of that risk.”
Source : EXPRESS