19,000 sign up for our cam­paign... as ma­jor study shows vol­un­teer­ing can ward off de­men­tia

Daily Mail - - Countdown To Brexit D-day - By Kate Pick­les Health Re­porter

VOL­UN­TEER­ING for just two hours a week can help to ward off de­men­tia, a ma­jor study found.

Keep­ing ac­tive in re­tire­ment was found to re­duce mem­ory prob­lems and boost think­ing skills by 6 per cent.

The find­ings by ex­perts come af­ter more than 19,000 peo­ple have signed up to the Daily Mail’s cam­paign to boost vol­un­teer num­bers in the NHS.

To­day Justin Welby gives his sup­port to the cam­paign, com­mend­ing those who have al­ready pledged their time and en­cour­ag­ing oth­ers to fol­low suit. The Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury says vol­un­teers are in a priv­i­leged po­si­tion and can give the pre­cious time busy doc­tors and nurses do not have.

He writes: ‘By join­ing the Hos­pi­tal Help­force – pledg­ing as lit­tle as three hours a week, or one day a month of your time – you could have a pro­found im­pact on the lives of pa­tients, whether giv­ing prac­ti­cal help like pick­ing up pre­scrip­tions, of­fer­ing a shoul­der to cry on, talk­ing to pa­tients who may be el­derly or con­fused, or staffing helpdesks to make the hos­pi­tals as ef­fi­cient as pos­si­ble.’ The Christ­mas cam­paign with the char­ity Help­force aims to fill im­por­tant roles such as pro­vid­ing pa­tients with com­pan­ion­ship, de­liv­er­ing pre­scrip­tions and even run­ning singing groups.

Last week, a ma­jor re­port by re­spected health think tank, The King’s Fund, found vol­un­tary help re­duces pres­sures on NHS staff. Re­search by char­ity the Royal Vol­un­tary Ser­vice has also shown the ben­e­fits to those on the re­ceiv­ing end.

Now re­searchers say there is com­pelling ev­i­dence that this can ben­e­fit vol­un­teers as well as pa­tients and staff.

The study, pub­lished in The Jour­nal of the Eco­nomics of Age­ing, fol­lowed 64,000 adults in the US, who were aged 60 and over, be­tween 1998 and 2010. It found those who com­pleted vol­un­teer work for 100 hours a year – just two hours a week – scored 6 per cent higher in cog­ni­tive test­ing than non-vol­un­teers did.

It adds to grow­ing ev­i­dence that stim­u­lat­ing ac­tiv­i­ties – such as read­ing to pa­tients – can con­trib­ute to main­tain­ing brain­power into old age.

Dr Sumedha Gupta, of In­di­ana Univer­sity-Pur­due Univer­sity In­di­anapo­lis, said the ev­i­dence showed it was ‘win-win sit­u­a­tion’ for all in­volved.

‘Vol­un­teer­ing is dif­fer­ent from other ac­tiv­i­ties,’ she said. ‘For in­stance, if you were play­ing Sudoku, it would give you brain stim­u­la­tion but it does not pro­vide you so­cial in­ter­ac­tion or make you move.

‘If you vol­un­teer, it is re­ally good be­cause it draws three things – phys­i­cal stim­u­la­tion, so­cial in­ter­ac­tion as well as cog­ni­tive stim­u­la­tion – all into one. If they don’t vol­un­teer, their cog­ni­tive scores de­cline faster.’

Dr Gupta added: ‘The amount of time the Daily Mail is ask­ing peo­ple to vol­un­teer – three hours a week – is also al­most ex­actly that in the study. I think this cam­paign will be a mean­ing­ful ex­er­cise for all in­volved.’

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