Longitudinal Associations Between Formal Volunteering and Cognitive Functioning

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Objectives The present study examines the association between formal volunteering and cognitive functioning over time. We also examine the moderating roles of race, sex, education, and time. Method Using 11,100 participants aged 51 years and older and nine waves of data from the Health and Retirement Survey, we simultaneously modeled the longitudinal associations between engaging in formal volunteering and changes in cognitive functioning using multilevel models. Results Formal volunteering was associated with higher levels of cognitive functioning over time, especially with aspects of cognitive functioning related to working memory and processing. This association was stronger for women than it was for men, and for those with below average levels of education. The positive association between formal volunteering and cognitive functioning weakened over time when cognitive functioning was conceptualized as memory, but strengthened over time when conceptualized as working memory and processing. Discussion Volunteering is a productive activity that is beneficial not just to society, but to volunteers' levels of cognitive functioning in older age. For women and those with lower levels of education, formal volunteering appears particularly beneficial to working memory and processing.



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