Impact of Volunteering on Cognitive Decline of the Elderly

Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Lobby (Annenberg Center)

Author(s): Sumedha Gupta; Morhaf Al-Achkar


Cognitive decline amongst the elderly imposes a huge welfare and health care cost
on the individual as well as society. Little however is known about factors that can
mitigate such a decline. Using seven waves of the Health and Retirement Study, this
study estimates the causal e ects of pro-social engagement, speci cally volunteering,
on old age cognitive health. Our results shed light on how deliberate social behavior
at prime age can be used to e ectively ease cognitive decline which is otherwise an
inevitable aspect of aging. The result of a signi cant protective e ect of volunteering
on cognitive health is robust to a wide array of sensitivity tests. Estimating roughly
the monetary gains from volunteering, our estimates show that including volunteering
as a determinant of dementia, which is viewed as an extreme negative outcome of
cogntive decline, leads to a 6% reduction in predicted dementia. This in turn implies a
$9.26-$15.16 billion (2010 prices) reduction in the annual health care cost of dementia
patients, which is otherwise estimated to be between $157 and $215 billion (Hurd et.
al, 2013). Furthermore, this is likely to be the lower bound of the total monetary gains
from improved cognitive health due to volunteering as it does not take into account,
health care costs of mild to moderate cognitive impairment, non-health care related
individual welfare gains due to improved cognitive health and the value of the positive
externalities that volunteer services will generate for the society as a whole.