Volunteering may help protect against dementia

Smart AgingA Baycrest scientist is leading a new study which aims to provide evidence that volunteering is an effective prescription for healthy aging.

“The long-term scientific objective is to see whether volunteering protects against dementia,” explains Dr. Nicole Anderson, a cognitive rehabilitation scientist with the Kunin-Lunenfeld Applied Research Unit.

“Volunteering provides the opportunity for physical, mental and social activities which have all been shown to have a positive effect on brain fitness and may provide a buffer against the onset of dementia.”

Most previous research has focused on how volunteers feel their volunteering helps them; this study will go beyond that and investigate whether volunteering actually helps maintain health.

The volunteers’ physical, cognitive and psychosocial functioning will be assessed before and after a year of volunteering.

The goal is to determine whether there is a direct link between the type of volunteer activity and any physical, cognitive or psychosocial benefits – an approach that has never been taken before.

“We expect to see improvements overall, but we will also relate those improvements to the demands of each volunteer’s placement. Individuals placed in high cognitive and social roles – like a cashier in the cafeteria – would be expected to show large cognitive and social gains, but not so large physical gains,” adds Dr. Anderson.

The four-year study began in April in partnership with Syrelle Bernstein, director of Volunteer Services at Baycrest, and is funded by the Government of Canada New Horizons for Seniors Program and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

To participate in this volunteer study, entitled BRAVO, please phone 416-785-2500 ext. 2572 or email: alefkovitz@baycrest.org