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Volunteering May Keep Elderly Stronger
Date:12/31/2009

Finding debunks myth that condition is unavoidable, expert says

THURSDAY, Dec. 31 (HealthDay News) -- Volunteering one's time and energy might help stave off frailty among the elderly.

The notion is drawn from a fresh analysis of data nearly two decades old that tracked the activities of over 1,000 physically active men and women in their 70s who were described as reasonably high-functioning.

Those who spent time volunteering were less likely to become frail, a physical diminishing that sometimes happens among the elderly.

"Of course, this certainly does not prove that volunteering prevents frailty," cautioned Dr. Catherine Sarkisian, an associate professor of geriatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. "This was an observational study. But this suggests that maybe there is something about working to help other people -- and getting outside yourself -- that has benefits for the elderly, both mentally and physically."

The data were initially collected between 1988 and 1991 by the MacArthur Study of Successful Aging. Among the participants, 28 percent did some type of volunteer work, 25 percent performed child-care duties and 19 percent worked for a salary. Some did more than one of these activities, and 45 percent participated in none of them, the study found.

Sarkisian, who is also a staff physician with the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, and her fellow researchers assessed the degree of frailty among the participants based on five criteria: weight loss, weakness in grip strength, exhaustion, slow movement and low levels of physical activity.

About 3 percent of the participants had been classified as frail at the start of the study, and after three years, the number had risen to 7 percent.

After accounting for such factors as age, cognitive function and disability, the researchers found that neither paid work no
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