Volunteering: a physical activity intervention for older adults--The Experience Corps program in Baltimore.
ABSTRACT: There is compelling evidence supporting the benefits of increased regular physical activity in older adults. The Experience Corps program in Baltimore MD was designed in part as a community based approach to increasing physical activity that would also appeal to older adults who have historically not utilized health promotion programs. The Baltimore Experience Corps program places older volunteers in public elementary schools for 15 h a week in roles designed to improve the academic outcomes of children and, simultaneously, increase the physical, cognitive and social activity of volunteers. This paper reports on the change in physical activity levels among older adults associated with participation in the Baltimore Experience Corps. In a pilot randomized controlled evaluation, older adults were randomly assigned to Experience Corps (EC participants) or a waiting list control group. Ages ranged from 59-86 years, 96% were African American, 94% were women, and 84% had annual incomes less than $15,000. EC participants were required to serve >/=15 h a week. At follow-up after 4-8 months, an analysis of 113 randomized volunteers revealed 53% of the EC participants were more active than the previous year by self-report, as compared to 23% of the controls (p<0.01). When adjusted for age, gender and education, there was a trend toward increased physical activity in the EC participants as calculated by a kilocalorie per week increase of 40%, versus a 16% decrease in the controls (p=0.49). EC participants who reported "low activity" at baseline experienced an average 110% increase in their physical activity at follow-up. Among the controls who were in the "low activity" group at baseline, there was, on average, only a 12% increase in physical activity (p=0.03). Among those who were previously active, there was no significant difference (p=0.30). The pilot results suggest that a high intensity volunteer program that is designed as a health promotion intervention can lead, in the short-term, to significant improvements in the level of physical activity of previously inactive older adult volunteers.
Project description:Older adults with a high number of chronic conditions and who live in environments that do not promote physical activity have great difficulty initiating and adhering to exercise programs. Novel lifestyle activity interventions that can effectively increase physical activity may address disparities in health in these populations. This study evaluates the effects of the Baltimore Experience Corps program, a community-based volunteer program, on walking activity in older adults.The Baltimore Experience Corps Trial is a sex-stratified RCT that recruited participants from 2006 to 2009. Older adult participants aged ?60 years (n=123) were from a nested objective physical activity trial within the larger Baltimore Experience Corps Trial. Participants randomized to the intervention group were placed as volunteers within the Baltimore public school system for 2 years. The primary study outcome was objectively measured total amount of walking activity measured in steps/day. Differences between intervention and control groups were measured at 12 and 24 months using linear mixed effects models. Data were analyzed in 2014.At 24 months, women, but not men, in the intervention group showed an increased amount of walking activity, averaging 1,500.3 (95% CI=77.6, 2,922.9) greater steps/day compared with the control group. Women in the control group showed a decline of 1,191.6 (95% CI=-2243.7, -139.5) steps/day at 24 months compared to baseline.A community-based volunteer intervention increased walking activity among older women, who were at elevated risk for both inactivity and adverse health outcomes.This study is registered at www.clinicaltrials.gov NCT00380562.
Project description:Being and feeling generative, defined as exhibiting concern and behavior to benefit others, is an important developmental goal of midlife and beyond. Although a growing body of evidence suggests mental and physical health benefits of feeling generative in later life, little information exists as to the modifiability of generativity perceptions. The present study examines whether participation in the intergenerational civic engagement program, Experience Corps (EC), benefits older adults' self-perceptions of generativity.Levels of generativity were compared in older adults randomized to serve as EC volunteers or controls (usual volunteer opportunities) in the Baltimore Experience Corps Trial at 4-, 12-, and 24-month evaluation points over the 2-year trial. Analyses utilized intention-to-treat and complier average causal effects (CACE) analyses which incorporate degree of intervention exposure in analytic models.Participants randomized to the EC group had significantly higher levels of generative desire and perceptions of generative achievement than controls at each follow-up point; CACE analyses indicate a dose-response effect with a greater magnitude of intervention effect with greater exposure to the EC program.Results provide the first-ever, large-scale experimental demonstration that participation in an intergenerational civic engagement program can positively alter self-perceptions of generativity in older adulthood.
Project description:Volunteer service opportunities for older adults may soon be expanded. Although volunteering is thought to provide health benefits for healthier older adults, it is not known whether older adults in less than very good health are suitable candidates for high-intensity volunteering and can derive health benefits. This manuscript presents a prospective analysis of 174 older adult volunteers serving in Experience Corps Baltimore, a high-intensity senior volunteer program in Baltimore, Maryland. Volunteers served > or =15 h per week, for a full school year, in elementary schools helping children with reading and other skills between 1999 and 2002. Volunteers were assessed with standardized questionnaires and performance-based testing including grip strength, walking speed, chair stand speed, and stair-climbing speed prior to school volunteering and at the end of the school year. Results were stratified by health status. Among 174 volunteers, 55% initially reported "good" and 12% "fair" or "poor" health status. At baseline, those in fair health reported higher frequencies of disease and disability than volunteers in excellent or very good health. After volunteering, a majority of volunteers in every baseline health status category described increased strength and energy. Those in fair health were significantly more likely to display improved stair-climbing speed than those in good or excellent/very good health (100.0% vs. 53.4% vs. 37.5%, p = 0.05), and many showed clinically significant increases in walking speed of >0.5 m/s. Satisfaction and retention rates were high for all health status groups. Clinicians should consider whether their patients in fair or good health, as well as those in better health, might benefit from high-intensity volunteer programs. Productive activity such as volunteering may be an effective community-based approach to health promotion for older adults.
Project description:Engagement in social and generative activities has benefits for the well-being of older adults; hence, methods for broadly engaging them in such activities are desired. Experience Corps Baltimore, a social model for health promotion for older adult volunteers in public schools, offers insight to such successful recruitment and retention. We report on data over a 4-year period in Baltimore City, Maryland, and describe a five-stage screening process implemented to recruit a diverse group of senior volunteers who would remain in the program for at least 1 year. The sample consisted of 443 older adults expressing an interest in and screened for volunteering. Comparisons were made with Chi-square and Fisher's t-test between those who entered the program and those who did not and those who were retained in the program. Gender, race, age group, and prior volunteering were significant in ultimate volunteer service in the schools. Overall, 38% of 443 persons recruited entered the schools; 94% of participants were over 60 years (p = 0.05) with a mean age of 69 years; 90% were women (p = 0.03), and 93% African-American (p = 0.005); 57% had not volunteered in the past year (p = 0.004). Ninety-two percent were retained in the first year; 80% returned a second year. Among the latter, 83% had <12 years of education (p = 0.001). Participants remained in the program for a second year of volunteering regardless of baseline MMSE score, self-reported health, and motivation for volunteering. In conclusion, it is possible to recruit and retain a diverse pool of older adults to participate in a high-intensity volunteer program, including non-traditional volunteers. Of special note is the success in recruiting African-American women and those with lower education, who may particularly benefit from health promotion.
Project description:Negative perceptions of aging can be self-fulfilling prophecies, predicting worse cognitive and physical outcomes. Although older adults are portrayed as either lonely curmudgeons or perfect grandparents, little research addresses how perceptions of aging relate to social outcomes. We considered whether more positive expectations about aging encourage older adults to maintain or bolster their social network connections and support.This study examined baseline, 12-, and 24-month questionnaire data from the Baltimore Experience Corps Trial, a longitudinal randomized volunteer intervention for adults aged 60 years and older. The associations between expectations regarding aging and different types of social support were tested using negative binomial and multiple regression models controlling for relevant covariates such as baseline levels of perceived support availability.Participants with more positive expectations at baseline made more new friends 2 years later and had greater overall perceived support availability 12 months later. Notably, only participants with at least average perceived support availability at baseline showed an association between expectations and later support availability.These results are the first to link overall expectations regarding aging to the social domain and suggest that the influence of perceptions of aging is not limited to physical or cognitive function.
Project description:INTRODUCTION:There is a substantial interest in identifying interventions that can protect and buffer older adults from atrophy in the cortex and particularly, the hippocampus, a region important to memory. We report the 2-year effects of a randomized controlled trial of an intergenerational social health promotion program on older men's and women's brain volumes. METHODS:The Brain Health Study simultaneously enrolled, evaluated, and randomized 111 men and women (58 interventions; 53 controls) within the Baltimore Experience Corps Trial to evaluate the intervention impact on biomarkers of brain health at baseline and annual follow-ups during the 2-year trial exposure. RESULTS:Intention-to-treat analyses on cortical and hippocampal volumes for full and sex-stratified samples revealed program-specific increases in volumes that reached significance in men only (P's ? .04). Although men in the control arm exhibited age-related declines for 2 years, men in the Experience Corps arm showed a 0.7% to 1.6% increase in brain volumes. Women also exhibited modest intervention-specific gains of 0.3% to 0.54% by the second year of exposure that contrasted with declines of about 1% among women in the control group. DISCUSSION:These findings showed that purposeful activity embedded within a social health promotion program halted and, in men, reversed declines in brain volume in regions vulnerable to dementia. CLINICAL TRIAL REGISTRATION:NCT0038.
Project description:OBJECTIVES:Numerous studies show benefits of mid- and late-life activity on neurocognitive health. Yet, few studies have examined how engagement in enriching activities during childhood, when the brain is most plastic, may confer long-term neurocognitive benefits that may be especially important to individuals raised in low-income settings. We examined associations between enriching early-life activities (EELAs) and hippocampal and amygdala volumes in a sample of predominantly African-American, community-dwelling older adults. We further assessed whether these associations were independent of current activity engagement. METHODS:Ninety participants from the baseline Brain Health Substudy of the Baltimore Experience Corps Trial (mean age: 67.4) completed retrospective activity inventories and an magnetic resonance imaging scan. Volumes were segmented using FreeSurfer. RESULTS:Each additional EELA was associated with a 2.3% (66.6 mm3) greater amygdala volume after adjusting for covariates. For men, each additional EELA was associated with a 4.1% (278.9 mm3) greater hippocampal volume. Associations were specific to these regions when compared with the thalamus, used as a control region. DISCUSSION:Enriching lifestyle activities during an important window of childhood brain development may be a modifiable factor that impacts lifelong brain reserve, and results highlight the importance of providing access to such activities in historically underserved populations.
Project description:As the population ages, older adults are seeking meaningful, and impactful, post-retirement roles. As a society, improving the health of people throughout longer lives is a major public health goal. This paper presents the design and rationale for an effectiveness trial of Experience Corps™, an intervention created to address both these needs. This trial evaluates (1) whether senior volunteer roles within Experience Corps™ beneficially impact children's academic achievement and classroom behavior in public elementary schools and (2) impact on the health of volunteers.Dual evaluations of (1) an intention-to-treat trial randomizing eligible adults 60 and older to volunteer service in Experience Corps™, or to a control arm of usual volunteering opportunities, and (2) a comparison of eligible public elementary schools receiving Experience Corps™ to matched, eligible control schools in a 1:1 control:intervention school ratio.For older adults, the primary outcome is decreased disability in mobility and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADL). Secondary outcomes are decreased frailty, falls, and memory loss; slowed loss of strength, balance, walking speed, cortical plasticity, and executive function; objective performance of IADLs; and increased social and psychological engagement. For children, primary outcomes are improved reading achievement and classroom behavior in Kindergarten through the 3rd grade; secondary outcomes are improvements in school climate, teacher morale and retention, and teacher perceptions of older adults.This trial incorporates principles and practices of community-based participatory research and evaluates the dual benefit of a single intervention, versus usual opportunities, for two generations: older adults and children.
Project description:OBJECTIVES:The early environment is thought to be a critical period in understanding the cognitive health disparities African Americans face today. Much is known about the positive role enriching environments have in mid- and late-life and the negative function adverse experiences have in childhood; however, little is known about the relationship between enriching childhood experiences and late-life cognition. The current study examines the link between a variety of enriching early-life activities and late-life cognitive functioning in a sample of sociodemographic at-risk older adults. METHOD:This study used data from African Americans from the Brain and Health Substudy of the Baltimore Experience Corps Trial (M = 67.2, SD = 5.9; N = 93). Participants completed a battery of neuropsychological assessments and a seven-item retrospective inventory of enriching activities before age 13. RESULTS:Findings revealed that a greater enriching early-life activity score was linked to favorable outcomes in educational attainment, processing speed, and executive functioning. DISCUSSION:Results provide promising evidence that enriching early environments are associated with late-life educational and cognitive outcomes. Findings support the cognitive reserve and engagement frameworks, and have implications to extend life-span prevention approaches when tackling age-related cognitive declines, diseases, and health disparities.
Project description:To evaluate ecological model predictions of cross-level interactions among psychosocial and environmental correlates of physical activity in 719 community-dwelling older adults in the Baltimore, Maryland and Seattle, Washington areas during 2005-2008.Walkability, access to parks and recreation facilities and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) minutes per week (min/week) were measured objectively. Neighborhood aesthetics, walking facilities, social support, self-efficacy, barriers and transportation and leisure walking min/week were self-reported.Walkability interacted with social support in explaining total MVPA (B=13.71) and with social support (B=7.90), self-efficacy (B=7.66) and barriers (B=-8.26) in explaining walking for transportation. Aesthetics interacted with barriers in explaining total MVPA (B=-12.20) and walking facilities interacted with self-efficacy in explaining walking for leisure (B=-10.88; Ps<.05). Summarizing across the interactions, living in a supportive environment (vs. unsupportive) was related to 30-59 more min/week of physical activity for participants with more positive psychosocial attributes, but only 0-28 more min/week for participants with less positive psychosocial attributes.Results supported synergistic interactions between built environment and psychosocial factors in explaining physical activity among older adults. Findings suggest multilevel interventions may be most effective in increasing physical activity.