August 09, 2016
2 min read

Volunteering among middle-aged, elderly patients linked to mental well-being

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PCPs should encourage patients who are middle-aged and elderly to take part in volunteering, as such activities promote mental well-being through social contact and other factors, particularly in those age groups, according to data published in BMJ.

“A recently published meta-analysis and other studies indicate a positive relationship between volunteering and health outcomes such as mental well-being, self-rated health, cardiovascular disease, risk factors for cardiovascular disease, disability and life satisfaction,” Faiza Tabassum, PhD, of the Southampton Statistical Sciences Research Institute, at the University of Southampton, UK, and colleagues wrote. “… In Britain, no previous study has focused on the association of volunteering with mental health by using a wider spectrum of age, including young and older people.”

To analyze the association between volunteering and mental well-being among a spectrum of ages in the British population, the researchers used the British Household Panel Survey, an annual longitudinal study of private households in Great Britain. Drawing data from 66,343 person-years collected in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008, the researchers measured well-being using the General Health Questionnaire.

In addition, they created four categories of volunteer participation: Frequent, or once per week; infrequent, defined as once per month or several times per year; rare, or once or less per year; and never. Multilevel linear models were used to analyze variations in mental well-being over time by volunteering category.

According to the researchers, when not considering age, participants who volunteered regularly appeared to experience higher levels of mental well-being, compared with those who never volunteered. However, this association varied by age, and did not emerge among participants in early- and mid-adulthood. Rather, the association seemed to become apparent among participants older than 40 years, and continued throughout old age. In addition, mental well-being scores among those in early adulthood increased markedly with age, before plateauing after the age of 40 years, and then increasing again above the age of 70 years.

“These findings argue for more efforts to involve middle-aged people to older people in volunteering related activities,” Tabassum and colleagues wrote. “Volunteering action might provide those groups with greater opportunities for beneficial activities and social contacts, which in turn may have protective effects on health status. Particularly, with the aging of the population, it is imperative to develop effective health promotion for this last third of life, so that those living longer are healthier.” – by Jason Laday

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.