Serving Your Community: Another Path To Brain Fitness?

December 29, 2009 at 12:37 pm Leave a comment

Volunteer... it's good for your brain! (Cool little thought balloons by Ambrozio on Stock.Xchng) Seniors are frequent beneficiaries of volunteer organizations, from groups like Meals on Wheels, to home visitation programs.

But new research suggests new ways that older adults can benefit from the other side of volunteer efforts: offering their help to others through volunteer programs may help preserve and improve their cognitive function, and ward off mental declines.

So what’s this research?

17 women (all over age 65 and considered at high risk of cognitive declines) were enrolled in Experience Corps – a nation wide effort that trains seniors to work with children in urban public schools.   Eight of the women were immediately put into the program for six months, while the other nine served as a control group, and were put on a waiting list for the volunteer effort.

At the end of the six months, scans of the women’s brains showed significant increases in activity in key areas for cognitive fitness, and one of the women remarked that  ‘it [Experience Corps] removed the cobwebs from my brain.'”

Like many of these brain fitness studies, researchers warn that their results are preliminary and may not necessarily hold true outside of their gender limited sample. Even so, the results just seem to make sense.

Working with Experience Corps and tutoring children  forced the women to reactivate skills that had been dormant for years – from helping with math and reading homework, to teaching children social skills.   Keeping mentally active by learning new skills, (and reviving old ones) is known to help hold back cognitive declines.   Their physical activity levels also improved, another known key to healthy brain function, and social contact in general has documented benefits towards  keeping mental declines at bay.  Volunteer efforts help people to be more engaged with their community, to have a purpose in their life, and be more emotionally healthy.

In general, the women felt better for their experience, not only mentally, but physically and emotionally — all keys in brain fitness.   Even better, the women wanted to continue…. 80% of them signed up for Experience Corps the next year, meaning they’ll likely continue to receive benefits from their participation, as well as helping local children and schools.

How can this apply in your life?

Certainly, you can check to see if Experience Corps has a program in your area – or volunteer to help organize one.   It’s a worthy and proven program.

But other organizations could provide similar benefits: look for those that provide some sort of a mental challenge, encourage social interaction, and have a positive emotional impact.  Educational and tutoring programs, reading for the blind, helping young parents learn child rearing skills, teaching an adult education course in your favorite hobby, building a community garden, or English as a second language classes are all good examples, and those are just a few off the top of my head!

What do you think?

Is there room in your life to benefit others and your brain at the same time?

Entry filed under: Be Mentally Active, Purpose. Connection & Spirit. Tags: , , , .

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About This Blog

A healthy mind and brain is key to a healthy, active life. Come along for the ride as we explore the basics of brain health, with topics including:
  • Physical Exercise
  • Cognitive Training
  • Stress Management
  • Social Interaction
  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • A Sense of Purpose & Connection
Authored by Tori Deaux
Sponsored by Dakim Brain Fitness



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