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Volunteering benefits your community - and your brain

Thu, Jan 4th 2024 09:30 am

Submitted by the Western New York Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association

January is a traditional time to take stock of our health and make some resolutions for the new year. Gyms and fitness classes often fill up as people start new habits. If you’re thinking about ways to improve your health in 2024, you might consider volunteering.

A growing amount of research shows that volunteering offers benefits for our mental and physical well-being and can keep us sharp as we age. And volunteering is also good for brain health.

“We know that people find purpose and meaning when they volunteer, but research suggests it can also be an important part of healthy aging,” shares Courtney Sipes, director of community engagement at the Western New York Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “And volunteering has benefits that can reduce the risk of dementia.”

•Research released last year at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference found that, in older adults, volunteering improved executive function and episodic memory. In simpler terms, it means our ability to recall events and experiences, plan and problem-solve is better.

•A study published in 2018 found that volunteering, especially volunteering that directly helps other people, reduced feelings of depression, increased life satisfaction, and improved social ties in adults of any age. The researchers included previous studies that found volunteering also increased happiness, reduced stress and improved self-esteem.

Mayo Clinic recently noted that volunteering releases dopamine in our brains, which makes us feel more relaxed and happier.

All these benefits of volunteering – improved memory, better mental health, stronger social connections, less stress – contribute to improved brain health and a reduced risk of dementia.

If you’re thinking about volunteering, it’s important to find the right fit to reap all the benefits. The most important consideration is what matters to you. Find an organization that matches your values and the things you care about. Also think about the amount of free time you have and your skills and expertise.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers many ways to volunteer and help people in Western New York, such as assisting with its educational programs, support groups, advocacy or special events, such as the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Visit its website to learn more.

More About the Alzheimer's Association

The Alzheimer’s Association is a worldwide voluntary health organization dedicated to Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Our mission is to lead the way to end Alzheimer's and all other dementia – by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer's and all other dementia. Visit alz.org or call 800-272-3900.

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