Okun said the researchers controlled for many variables and the relationship between functional limitations, volunteering and mortality remained.
"There appears to be something unique happening in terms of how functional limitations and volunteering work together to influence mortality," Okun said.
While the authors could not identify the mechanism for this effect, Okun did say that it could be that by volunteering older people feel more useful.
"People who have the beginning of a set of functional limitations are the kinds of people who are experiencing some diminished sense of usefulness. We know that a sense of usefulness is a predictor of mortality in older people," Okun explained.
"We are arguing that the experience of functional limitations may be accompanied by an erosion of their sense of 'how can I contribute.' If we give older people with functional limitations a way to restore their sense of usefulness, then we may be able to compensate for, or off set, the effect of functional limitations on mortality. Volunteering may very well provide one of those opportunities."
Demographics are enhancing the importance of this finding, Okun said.
"From a policy point of view, some doomsayers are making catastrophic projections on what will happen as the Boomers age," he said. "But we need to start thinking about the assets they bring with them.
"People who volunteer, particularly those with some health problems, benefit from it," he added. "On the other hand, our society is teeming with social problems that require the involvement of nonprofits and volunteers. This is a win-win situation.
"The Boomers are not going to be envelope lickers," O
|Contact: Skip Derra|
Arizona State University