Methods: This study used the 2005 dataset from the Sources of Independence in the Elderly (SITE) project that contains a community-resident population of individuals ages 70+ selected from a large pool of New York City elders. Telephone interviews and home assessments were performed to gather the health information of the 289 participants. The research outcome, as defined by the degree of volunteer participation, was measured by the following categories: never volunteered, used to volunteer, and currently volunteer. Different measures were used to measure each dimension of overall health: physical health was measured by IADL, the Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB), and the number of doctor visits; mental health was measured by depressive symptoms assessed with the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ); and cognitive health was measured by executive function scores, which are a part of the neuropsychological evaluation. The data was analyzed by Ordinal Probit analysis.
Results: Findings indicate that among the four control variables - the age, gender, race, and educational level of the older adults – only education shows a significant positive relationship with the volunteering participation of the older adults. When the effects of control variables are ruled out, IADL and depression are not significant, while the other three health measures—the SPPB, executive function, and the number of doctor visits— are significantly associated with the participants' involvement in volunteer activities in their lifetime. The SPPB and the number of doctor visits show positive associations with volunteering, suggesting that older adults with a higher degree of volunteer participation tend to have better physical health. On the other hand, the executive function shows a negative relationship with volunteering, implying that those older adults currently engaged in volunteering are more likely to have poor cognitive functions.
Conclusion and Implications: These results support previous findings that volunteer participation has a positive correlation with the health status of older adults. Also, this study implies that the SPPB and the number of doctor visits can be alternative measures in studying the issue of the health of older volunteers. In addition, more research is needed to further ascertain the relationship between the volunteer participation and cognitive functions of older adults.