Ever since Linda Ehman retired after many years as a teacher, she’s kept busy with volunteer work. The 68-year-old can often be found proudly zipping up and down the terminals at the Calgary International Airport as one of the facility’s iconic white-hatted volunteers.
“I like to talk, so this gives me a great opportunity to meet incredible people,” Ehman said.
Ehman has spent the last seven years greeting and assisting travellers at the airport. The volunteer work has helped give her a sense of purpose during her retirement.
According to new research, it may also be beneficial to Ehman’s health. New research from the University of Calgary found that retirees who volunteer regularly significantly reduce their risk of developing dementia.
“We followed 1001 Swedish people who retired at the age of 65,” explained Yannick Griep, a researcher with both the University of Calgary and Stockholm University.
“We noticed that those that did voluntary work for one hour a week were 2.44 times less likely to have dementia two years down the road.”
Griep said researchers aren’t entirely sure why volunteer work lowers a person’s dementia risk, but he suspects it’s because volunteering keeps seniors physically, mentally and socially active.
“When you volunteer, you are more likely to have access to people beyond your family [such as] your co-volunteers, and then there’s also much wider cognitive activity going on — there’s more things you have to remember.”
In the study, volunteer work was defined as an activity done for no personal or financial benefit.
Retirees had to volunteer on a regular basis for at least an hour a week in order to lower their dementia risk. Those who volunteered once in a while did not receive any benefits to their cognitive health.
The study was published in March 2017 in the medical journal PLOS One.