Research: Volunteering in later life supports brain health

Pamela J. Myers, Alzheimer’s Association NW and Central Ohio

        Today, there are 220,000 Ohioans living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia – and by 2025, that number is expected to hit 250,000. Almost 500,000 Ohioans are providing care to people living with the disease in our communities across the state; two-thirds of these caregivers are women. We also know that one in three seniors die from this disease and that dementia is one of the costliest conditions to society.
        The Alzheimer’s Association is a worldwide voluntary health organization dedicated to advancing Alzheimer’s care support and research. A large part of our mission is to provide care and support to all those who are facing this disease. We do that through our 24/7 Helpline, a variety of online interactive tools, and in-person awareness presentations, education programs, and support groups. We also have staff who provide care consultations and referrals at the local chapter.
        As we try and navigate this public health crisis, we know that we need to bring awareness, education, and support
to our local communities. In order to do that effectively, we need an army of volunteers in communities across the state to ensure that no family goes without the care and support they need.
        In fact, at the 2023 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC), research was presented that found
that volunteering in later life was associated with better baseline scores on tests of executive function and verbal episodic memory. Volunteering was also associated with a trend toward less cognitive decline over the follow up time of one to two years, and those who volunteered several times per week had the highest levels of executive functioning.
        More research is needed, but these findings suggest that volunteering is good for your brain health. Age is the greatest risk factor for developing dementia – and so one of the ways we can reduce our risk is to stay cognitively active – using our brains.
        At our Northwest Ohio Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, volunteers can participate in a wide variety of roles, including delivering presentations/programs, facilitating a support group, or attending community events representing the Association. There are also opportunities to work on our fundraising and advocacy efforts.
        We will match your passion to our opportunities.
        Here are some reasons why our current volunteers have joined the fight:
        “It is a blessing to see people in need of support be grateful to be heard and leave a meeting feeling they have some tools to work with in this world of Alzheimer’s disease and its devastation. They can leave with a smile and hope despite the disease.” – Joyce, caregiver support group facilitator/community educator.
        “I cared for my mother for many years before she passed. I wish I had known then what I know now about dementia. I want to share that knowledge with as many family caregivers as possible hoping to make their journey easier” – Paula, community educator.
        “Why I volunteer is to help support people living with dementia, either directly or indirectly. To give them tips on
how to have a more successful outcome and better understanding of and for their loved ones.” – Amy, caregiver support group facilitator.
        Volunteers are the key to the success of many nonprofit organizations, including the Alzheimer’s Association. We
hope this information will encourage individuals of all ages to get involved in volunteering, not only to benefit their community, but potentially one’s own brain health.
        We want to make sure people know that when faced with this diagnosis and then the journey of this disease, that they are not alone – there is hope and help available.
        Please join us in the fight against Alzheimer’s and all other dementias!
        To get more information about volunteering contact Dakota Stone, program manager, at 567-302-3608.
        Pamela J. Myers, MAOM, BSN, RN, is a program director at the Alzheimer's Association Northwest and Central Ohio.


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