Participating in social service activities can significantly improve brain functions of older adults, says a new study.
The research team from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health showed that volunteer service, such as tutoring children, can help older adults delay or reverse declining brain function and enhance their quality of life.
They found that seniors participating in a youth mentoring program called Experience Corps- designed to both benefit children and older adults' health- made gains in key brain regions that support cognitive abilities important to planning and organizing one's daily life.
"We found that participating in Experience Corps resulted in improvements in cognitive functioning and this was associated with significant changes in brain activation patterns," said lead investigator Michelle C. Carlson, PhD, associate professor in the Bloomberg School's Department of Mental Health and Center on Aging and Health.
"Essentially the intervention improved brain and cognitive function in these older adults," she added.
During the study, researchers followed 17 women aged 65 and older. Half participated in existing Experience Corps programs in Baltimore schools, while the other half were wait-listed to enroll in Experience Corps the following year.
"While the results of this study are preliminary, they hold promise for enhancing and maintaining brain reserve in later life, particularly among sedentary individuals who may benefit most urgently from behavioural interventions like Experience Corps," said Carlson.
"This study suggests that new kinds of roles for older adults in our aging society can be designed as a win-win-for addressing important societal needs, such as our children's success, and simultaneously the health and well-being of the older volunteers themselves," said senior author Linda P. Fried, MD, MPH, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.
The study is published in the Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.