Introverts, take note: Social connectedness and civic engagement may stave off some of the cognitive effects of aging—and may even protect against dementia.
A new study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that the memory center in the brain maintained its size—or even grew—after seniors spent two years engaged in meaningful and social activities.
Seniors who experienced the largest increases in the brain’s volume over two years also saw the greatest improvements on memory tests, reversing a type of cognitive decline that is linked to Alzheimer’s disease risk.
The seniors participated in the Baltimore Experience Corps, a program that places retirees in school volunteer positions.
“Someone once said to me that being in this program removed the cobwebs from her brain, and this study shows that is exactly what is happening,” says study leader Michelle Carlson, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Mental Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “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.”
That study lends further credence to the Blue Zones project in Collier and south Lee counties, a major public health initiative to increase physical, mental and emotional well-being and improve longevity. Social connectedness and maintaining purpose are among the tenants of the Blue Zones philosophy.
Although volunteerism isn’t the only way to stay socially connected, opportunities do abound in Lee and Collier counties. Learn about area nonprofits and schools by visiting the Collier County Community Foundation’s nonprofit directory, the United Way of Lee, Charlotte, Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee’s Volunteer Center, the Lee County School District or Collier County School District. Retired business people may want to consider mentoring others through SCORE in Naples or Fort Myers or Junior Achievement of Southwest Florida.