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Live with Purpose - October 31, 2023
By Catie Ramos and Jessica Fredericksen
Did you know that you can enjoy brain health benefits by volunteering?
According to a 2023 study from UC Davis, “volunteering later in life may protect the brain against cognitive decline and dementia.” The study specifically mentioned that researchers found better memory and executive function in older adults who volunteered. Using an ethnically and racially diverse population of 2,476 older adults, they found that volunteering led to better baseline scores on cognitive tests. Individuals who volunteered several times a week had the highest scores.
Volunteering can offer several other benefits that also connect back to better brain health.
The Mayo Health Clinic states that volunteering can improve physical and mental health, specifically for older adults. Additionally, it provides a sense of purpose, which can increase life satisfaction and self-esteem in older adults. It also creates relationships and new connections with others. Socialization like this is so important for our brain health.
Another advocate for the health benefits of volunteering is AARP, who states that volunteering increases brain functioning by getting you “Moving and thinking” at the same time. They also state that volunteering helps us release dopamine, giving us “The Happiness Effect” that we get after a hard workout or an exciting event.
Volunteering can also reduce our stress levels, and managing stress is essential to healthy brain function.
Goodwin Living team member Catie Ramos started volunteering at Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads (GHBC) earlier this year. Catie became interested in volunteering at GHBC with residents on higher levels of care because she remembers playing games with family and her grandmother growing up and still enjoys the same activities. She also values the opportunity to uphold the mission of Goodwin Living to support, honor and uplift the lives of older adults outside of her day-to-day work.
“We used to play games all the time,” Catie shared. “So coming in on my personal time to play games with residents is a joy to me! Also, I get to experience my daily work environment in a totally different way. It’s great fun!”
One or two times each month, Catie leads activities during her volunteering visits. As a member of the administration team at GHBC, she appreciates the opportunity to connect with residents with whom she does not often engage as part of our regular job. A special connection was made with a resident who was also born and raised in Indiana and is a fellow Purdue University Alumni.
At Goodwin Living, we welcome volunteers of all ages. Catie’s nephews, ages 8 and 11, enjoy visits to GHBC to help lead activities with Catie. These types of experiences help to promote increased awareness and understanding between younger and older generations and develop intergenerational relationships. An article published in the Springer European Journal of Aging reviewed several studies from throughout the world that confirmed these benefits.
One collective finding from this review suggests that young people benefit by developing positive attitudes toward older adults. Catie’s nephews continue to learn about aging and creating strong interpersonal relationships with older adults. These intergenerational connections offer benefits to older adults by increasing their self-esteem, improving their well-being, increasing their social contact and improving memory function.
Across all Goodwin Living campuses, residents take part in volunteering opportunities within their community. GHBC Resident Martha (“Mar_T”) Ahrens has been a volunteer in various capacities throughout her entire life.
A certified personal trainer and retired nurse, Mar_T started leading exercise classes on higher levels of care about a year ago and teaches class every Saturday. She creates interactive experiences by encouraging the residents to visualize themselves outside of the community. For example, when football season started, she had the class pretend they were in a marching band. One resident who used to be a musician played an imaginary trombone, while one person was the drum major, and everyone moved their feet to march across the football field.
Mar_T has even taught chair jumping jacks and residents love telling their families, “I did jumping jacks today!” Mar_T appreciates contributing to fellow residents’ wellness through physical fitness.
During group sessions of StrongerMemory participants, many shared that they have noticed these feel-good health and brain health benefits when volunteering. They also shared that there are many ways to volunteer. Some choose to volunteer as part of a larger organization, while others give back by sharing their time and resources informally with others. Both are extremely rewarding experiences.
In StrongerMemory, it can be challenging to think of ways to incorporate reading aloud, writing and simple math into your daily habits. You can boost the brain benefits of StrongerMemory by including some volunteer work in your exercises. Maybe you can write letters to hospice patients or service men and women overseas. Many libraries or schools have programs where you can read aloud to children. Or maybe you have a friend who could use some extra support via a letter exchange or some time spent being read aloud to. The possibilities for compounding brain benefits are endless!
We welcome families and all ages to enjoy their weekends at Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads to contribute to stimulating residents’ social and emotional wellness. Volunteers are invited to lead activities or games, facilitate discussions on a topic of interest, perform a talent or socialize over snacks. Volunteers are encouraged to share their own interests or hobbies with residents or guide them through a variety of pre-selected online activities.
To learn more about volunteering at Goodwin Living, click here. If you prefer volunteering virtually or are interested in how you can support the StrongerMemory movement as a volunteer, email our brain health team at StrongerMemory@GoodwinLiving.org.
Goodwin Living Director of Brain Health Jessica Fredericksen, CDP, MSW, RCAL, joined Goodwin Living in early 2021 as Brain Health Program Manager. She is focused on advancing brain health and dementia awareness through education, the StrongerMemory program and serving on the Dementia Advance Team. Jessica is a Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP) with a Masters in Gerontological Social Work (MSW) from Washington University in St. Louis. Before joining Goodwin Living, she worked for an Assisted Living & Memory Care company in the Midwest where she gained experience as an Executive Director and Corporate Director of Community Excellence. When she’s not focused on brain health, Jessica enjoys volunteering with her church’s Youth Group and taking hikes with her cockapoo, Chloe Rose.