When I first met my husband-to-be’s Aunt, she was 70 years old. She was volunteering at the nearby home for the elderly. She only stopped when she turned 85 and couldn’t drive anymore due to vision problems.
There are two elderly ladies in our neighbourhood. One is very active at the pet association where she helps taking care of birds and rabbits while their owners are not at home. Thus, she is always on the go, always on foot, going from house to house. The other one goes to the pediatric clinic twice a week to help cheer up the young patients there.
I admire these people and how actively help others through volunteer work. But good deeds bring double benefits – to the recipient and to the source. Indeed, the elderly volunteers can benefit a lot from their good works, not only in the “feel good” sense. Scientist report that social service activities actually help delay or even reverse decline in neurological and physical functions that come with age.
In one study, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health report looked at the brain of elderly volunteers using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The results revealed that senior citizens involved in a youth mentoring program experienced gains benefitting key brain regions important to planning and organizing one’s daily life.
According to senior author Dr. Linda P. Fried geriatrics specialist at the Mailman School of Public Health:
“As life expectancies increase, it’s important, from a public health standpoint, to delay the onset of diseases associated with aging. This first of its kind 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.”
In another study by the Geriatric Research Education Clinical Center at UCLA, more than 1000 people aged 70 to 79 were checked for frailty. In this study, frailty signs monitored were mainly physical – weight loss, low energy and strength, and low physical activity. The results showed that social service was associated with decreased frailty in the elderly. However, paid work and childcare (e.g. such as taking care of grand children) were not.
Similar to these findings, studies have also shown that having a “higher purpose in life” seems to reduce the risk for cognitive decline and eventually Alzheimer’s disease