Posted on Jun 10, 2016, 6 a.m.
Civic engagement may combat the brain shrinkage that typifies the aging process.
A number of previous studies suggest that volunteering in one’s community may protect the brain from cognitive decline. Michelle C. Carlson, from Johns Hopkins University (Maryland, USA), and colleagues studied 111 men and women, average age 67 years, 58 of whom were participants in the Baltimore Experience Corps (a program in which retirees mentor children in public schools). The researchers used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI_ to scan the study participants’ brains at enrollment and then again after 12 and 24 months. The team also conducted memory tests. The subjects who were not involved in Experience Corps exhibited age-related shrinkage in brain volumes.. In contrast, the men who were enrolled in Experience Corps showed a .7 percent to 1.6 percent increase in brain volumes over the course of two years. Women Experience Corps participants also gained brain volume, but not to a statistically significant degree. The study authors write that: “These findings showed that purposeful activity embedded within a social health promotion program halted and, in men, reversed declines in brain volume in regions vulnerable to dementia.”
Michelle C. Carlson, Julie H. Kuo, Yi-Fang Chuang, Vijay Varma, Greg Harris, Marilyn Albert, et al. "Impact of the Baltimore Experience Corps Trial on cortical and hippocampal volumes." Alzheimers Dement. 2015 Mar 31. pii: S1552-5260(15)00061-8.