Volunteering for two hours a week can ward off dementia, study finds

Volunteering for just two hours a week can ward off dementia, study finds as more than 19,000 sign up for Daily Mail campaign to give up their time to help the NHS

  • Study shows volunteering for just two hours a week can boost thinking skills
  • More than 19,000 Mail readers have responded to our call for hospital volunteers
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury has also given his support for the Mail campaign 

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.

Experts say it adds to growing evidence that stimulating activities – such as helping on hospital wards or reading to patients – can contribute to maintaining brainpower into old age.

Volunteer Roger Groocock helps patient Mary Charlton with her lunch after she was admitted with a wrsit injury in Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey

So far, 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.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has given his support to the Mail’s campaign. He has encouraged others to give their time to volunteer for the NHS [File photo]

‘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,’ he writes.

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.

So far, more than 19,000 people have signed up to the Daily Mail’s campaign to boost volunteer numbers in the NHS

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.


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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.

Volunteer Jenni Peach is pictured at Southampton Hospital with patient Lizzy. The Christmas campaign with the charity Helpforce aims to fill important roles such as providing patients with companionship 

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.’

Why we were all inspired to help

More than 19,000 selfless Daily Mail readers have responded to our call for hospital volunteers. Here, three reveal why they want to give up their free time to help:  

Paramedic who wants to do more

Sophie Piper, from Swadlincote, Derbyshire, is a paramedic for West Midlands Ambulance Service, but wants to volunteer

Sophie Piper, 28, a paramedic for West Midlands Ambulance Service, said: ‘I might be a strange candidate to volunteer when I already work long hours for the NHS, but as I work two days and two nights a week I effectively have four days off a week, too, when I could help. My partner told me I might as well do overtime, but I wanted to make a different sort of impact.’

Miss Piper, who lives in Swadlincote, Derbyshire with her fiancé, John, 33, an HGV driver, added: ‘My mother is undergoing chemotherapy for stage-four breast cancer, so I know what an extra pair of hands could achieve. She often has to wait for ages for her drugs. If a volunteer could take pressure off nurses things like that could be done more quickly.

‘As a paramedic, I also see first-hand people’s impression of the service. An elderly woman I attended recently was having a heart attack, yet was adamant she didn’t want to go to hospital because she had had such a bad experience the last time. We managed to persuade her, but it wasn’t easy.

‘On the whole, the NHS is brilliant. Of course it’s overstretched and there’s too much demand on every aspect, but it’s also still free. People often forget that.

‘This is an excellent campaign and a great opportunity for young people to gain experience if they want to go into hospitals or care work. It helps everyone.

‘Hopefully I’ll be good at speaking to the elderly or cheering up children after their parents have gone home – anything to give people a break.’

The heart patient keen to give something back 

Howard Davies, 75, a locksmith who lives in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, said: ‘Three months ago I suffered a heart attack and the NHS were fantastic.

‘I was at home on my own at the time. It felt like somebody was pushing the centre of my chest and I suddenly felt quite cold. I recognised the symptoms and dialled 999 and the ambulance came quickly and I was taken to Wexham Park Hospital where four stents were inserted into my heart whilst I was awake.

Locksmith Howard Davies, from Buckinghamshire, suffered a heart attack three months ago and wants to give something back to help the NHS 

‘Half the arteries in my heart were blocked. I was very lucky.’

The father-of-two, who has one grandchild and one great-grandchild, added: ‘I’m still having treatment – cardiac rehab to try and make me a bit fitter than I was before – but I felt perfectly fit and healthy both before and after and it remains the only time I have ever really had to use the NHS for something serious.

‘It made me think that at my time of life, I work but am self-employed, I can afford to offer some of my time, to give something back.

‘The NHS is a wonderful, wonderful institution and I have put my money in all my life.

‘I think it’s a must-keep and there are people around who could give time.

‘My skills are probably people-facing, but I’m interesting in helping anyone in any way I can.’

Widow repaying the kindness of NHS staff 

Judith Ayres, 75, a retired receptionist of Torquay, Devon, with two daughters and three granddaughters, said: ‘Since my husband John, a retired college lecturer, died in February aged 76 I’ve felt very, very lonely. The only way to keep myself going is to stay busy, and volunteering is an excellent way of doing that. I also want to give something back to the NHS, who are amazing.

‘I’ve been trying to cope with John’s death, but it came out of the blue. He wasn’t ill – it was a sudden problem with his heart. I called the paramedics and an ambulance arrived within minutes. 

The Daily Mail is asking readers to find time to help patients and take pressure off staff. More than 19,000 selfless Daily Mail readers have responded to our call for hospital volunteers

‘They were such lovely people and although they weren’t able to save him they really looked after me. It was their kindness that was most striking. Before that, I’d had operations at Torbay hospital. They’ve fixed a broken wrist and removed my cataracts. The people are fabulous. I just love the NHS.

‘To be able to help them in any capacity would be wonderful and make me feel as though I’m being useful. I like meeting people and chatting. I’ll be happy speaking to patients, picking up prescriptions or just showing people around. I don’t mind what I do!

‘My daughter works for Southmead Hospital Charity in Bristol and tells me how essential the volunteers are to the work they and the nurses do. John would have loved me doing this, I know he would have been delighted.’

Vital hospital roles include mentoring patients and providing friendship. A major report by respected health think tank, The King’s Fund, found voluntary help reduces pressures on NHS staff

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