Toronto: Regularly engaging in volunteer work after retirement may significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia, a new study has found.
"We found that the people who did volunteer work for at least one hour a week on a regular basis were 2.44 times less likely to develop dementia than the seniors who did not volunteer," said Yannick Griep psychology professor at University of Calgary.
Researchers tracked 1,001 people - all of whom retired in 2010 - over a five-year period, monitoring them for the development of cognitive problems.
The retirees were divided into three groups based on their engagement in volunteer work. One group was made up of individuals who consistently volunteered in their respective communities for at least one hour per week.
The second group consisted of those who sporadically engaged in volunteering and the third group had retired workers who never engaged in volunteering.
Participants were given a questionnaire that touched on factors such as memory and the ability to concentrate and make clear decisions, among other cognitive issues.
Researchers also found that the middle group - those retirees who only volunteered sporadically - did not receive any benefits to their cognitive health.
"Work has many benefits beyond just a paycheque. It brings a structure to the day. It offers social contact with people outside of our family," researchers said.
"It brings us the social status we get with a job title. It makes us feel like we are making a meaningful contribution to society. And there is a physical aspect as well, even if it is just walking from your house to the spot where you do your volunteer work," they said.
"If you volunteer regularly, it starts to feel like a regular job and you get these benefits of work," said Griep.
The underlying assumption, is that those in the regular volunteering camp stay sharper cognitively because they are continuing to engage their minds in these key ways, researchers said.
The study was published in the journal PLOS One.