The memory center in the brains of seniors who volunteered in public schools for two years maintained their size, rather than shrinking as part of the normal aging process, report researchers.
The findings suggest that retirees who take part in meaningful social activity can prevent shrinkage in their brains’ memory centers and avert age-related cognitive problems.
In men, the researchers found, the memory centers actually grew modestly. Those with larger increases in brain volume also saw the greatest improvements on memory tests, showing a direct correlation between brain size and the reversal of a type of cognitive decline linked to increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
“By helping others, participants are helping themselves in ways beyond just feeding their souls,” says study leader Michelle Carlson, associate professor of mental health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “They are helping their brains.”
REMOVING THE ‘COBWEBS’
The research, published online in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, studied participants in the Baltimore Experience Corps, a program that brings retired people into public schools. They serve as mentors to young children and work with teachers to help kids learn to read in understaffed school libraries.