Christine Proulx

Older adults worried about losing their mental functions could consider volunteering as a potential boost, according to a University of Missouri researcher. Christine Proulx, an associate professor in the Human Development and Family Science Department in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences, has identified a link between volunteering and higher levels of cognitive functioning in older adults.

Looking at national data from the Health and Retirement Study that includes more than 11,000 adults aged 51 and over, Proulx found significant associations between cognitive function and volunteering among all participants, regardless of the amount of time volunteering. However, adults with lower levels of education and women seemed to benefit the most from volunteering.

“Prior research has shown that older adults with lower levels of education are at greater risk of cognitive decline,” Proulx says. “Engaging in volunteering might compensate for some of that risk.”

She says cognitive functions, such as memory, working memory and processing are essential for living an independent life. When volunteering an individual must follow directions, solve problems and be active, all of which engage the mind’s working memory and processing.