|Title||Older Adults and Volunteering: A Comprehensive Study on Physical and Psychological Well-Being and Cognitive Health|
|Year of Publication||2018|
|Academic Department||Social Work|
|Degree||Doctor of Philosophy|
|Number of Pages||133|
|University||The Ohio State University|
|Keywords||cognitive impairment, formal volunteering, productive aging, role theory|
This study examined the volunteer patterns of older adults with cognitive impairment and if formal volunteering influenced physical and psychological well-being and cognitive health among older adults with cognitive impairments. Then, it assessed if the association between formal volunteering and cognitive health was influenced through physical and psychological well-being. Finally, it explored the influence of socio-demographic characteristics on formal volunteering, physical and psychological well-being, and cognitive health. Using panel survey data from the Health and Retirement Study, this study included community-dwelling older adults age 65 and older. With a longitudinal study design, this study included two baselines. At the 2006 baseline (N=472), 26.4% of older adults with cognitive impairment participated in formal volunteering. Physical and psychological well-being and cognitive health of older adults with cognitive impairment decreased over time, but those who volunteered had higher levels of physical well-being (p<0.01) and those who volunteered more consistently from 2006 to 2014 showed higher levels of psychological well-being (p<0.05). There was a statistically significant interaction effect of time on cognitive health depending on whether or not the participants volunteered. The level of cognitive health slightly increased over time for those who volunteered. At the 2014 baseline (N=3,548), the level of volunteer engagement and the consistent participation in formal volunteer work significantly increased the level of physical and psychological well-being. However, the results from this study showed that while there were no significant effects of the consistency of volunteering on cognitive health, the physical and psychological well-being partially mediated the relationship between the consistency of volunteering and cognitive health. The effects of volunteering on physical and psychological well-being and cognitive health differed across age, retirement status, and racial and ethnic minority status. The higher level of volunteer engagement was related to the higher level of physical well-being, although the result was not applicable for the oldest old. The positive relationship between the consistency of volunteering and psychological well-being was significantly higher among those who were not retired, compared to those who were retired. Lastly, both non-Hispanic whites and racial and ethnic minorities demonstrated positive relationships between volunteering and cognitive health, but disparities in cognitive health appeared in racial and ethnic groups. The findings from this study support the need for special attention to vulnerable older adults, including older adults with cognitive impairment, who are most likely to be disengaged from the society. Existing volunteer programs should be more inclusive and accessible for this population so that every member in society can have an opportunity to participate in meaningful social activities. Beyond nationally representative volunteer programs, more opportunities specifically targeted for vulnerable and frail older adults should be offered in the long-term care community to help them achieve optimal health. In safe, comfortable, and interactive environments, older adults will be able to continue to engage in important roles in their community as they age.