May 15, 2017

Swansea University research reveals volunteering reduces chance of developing dementia

An academic from Swansea University is part of a team that has discovered that people who do volunteering once they have retired are far less likely to be diagnosed with dementia compared to retired workers who do not volunteer.

Dr Martin Hyde from the College of Human and Health Sciences at Swansea University worked alongside researchers from the University of Calgary, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Stockholm University and the University of Leuven to study 1001 retired workers over five years. He

became involved in the project through his former position working at the Stress Research Institute (SRI) in Stockholm, and explains, “This is an important study which shows the beneficial effects of volunteering. As populations age across the world there is a growing interest in factors that can help to maintain cognitive function and protect against dementia. We were fortunate to be able to use longitudinal data linked to administrative data on drug prescriptions from the Swedish Longitudinal Occupational Study of Health based at the SRI, to explore the link between volunteering and cognitive function and dementia.”

The study split the retired workers into three groups – retired workers who were regularly volunteering; retired workers who were sporadically volunteering, and retired workers who never volunteered, and their cognitive health was assessed repeatedly via questionnaires, physician diagnoses, and medication use.

The retired workers who were regularly volunteering for at least one hour per week reported fewer cognitive problems such as concentration issues, memory, or clear thinking, compared to retired workers who were sporadically or never engaged in volunteering. They were also much less likely to be diagnosed with dementia and prescribed an anti-dementia treatment compared to the others.

Dr Hyde says, “Although the data in this study comes from Sweden, I think the results are applicable to other countries in Europe and elsewhere. Nevertheless, since dementia has now surpassed heart disease as the main cause of death in England and Wales it would be great to see if this study could be replicated using Welsh data to help support the goals of ageing well in Wales.”

Find out more about the MSc/PGDip/PGCert Gerontology and Ageing Studies at Swansea University.

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Content added on 15th May 2017. 

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