July 15, 2015
Turns out pairing a class of exuberant young children with seniors does as much to help the seniors as it does to help the children. That’s what a recent brain health study found when seniors helped mentor young children visiting the library in their public school. The children received warm, friendly attention from their elderly companions, who helped them read story books and sound out words, and the older adults received not only appreciative smiles, but also a boost to their brain health from helping the children.
Older adults who participated in the study through the Baltimore Experience Corps were not only helping the overcrowded and understaffed schools, but incredibly, were actually reversing their own brain’s aging process. In the study, participants were given MRI scans of their brains and memory tests at the start of the program and again in 12 and 24 months. While the control group, which was not involved in the Experience Corps program, showed age-related brain shrinkage of .8 to 2%, those who volunteered at the schools actually had brain volume increases of .7 to 1.6%.
“By helping others, participants are helping themselves in ways beyond just feeding their souls. They are helping their brains. The brain shrinks as part of aging, but with this program we appear to have stopped that shrinkage and are reversing part of the aging process,” says study leader Michelle Carlson, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Mental Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The exact reasoning behind the results is unclear; the participants engaged in a number of activities that could have provided these benefits – physical activity, working in teams and with children, problem solving, socializing, and finding meaning and purpose in sharing knowledge and helping others. According to Carlson, “We’re not training them on one skill, like doing crossword puzzles. We’re embedding complexity and novelty into their daily lives, something that tends to disappear once people retire. The same things that benefit us at 5, 10, 25, 35 – contact with others, meaningful work – are certain to benefit us as we age.”
You can read the full article here from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
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