Benefits of Volunteering for Seniors
Volunteering and giving back to the community is always good for the heart and soul. But for seniors, it also has positive health benefits too.
Volunteering can reduce feelings of isolation and depression among seniors and keeps the brain active which may lessen the risk of dementia among many other benefits.
This article discusses the benefits of volunteering for seniors.
Benefits of Volunteering for Seniors
Nicole Anderson, a senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest conducted a small study of seniors who volunteered.
She went on to present her findings at the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics (IAGG)World Congress in July.
Anderson’s study found that seniors who volunteer around 100 hours a year or 3-4 hours a week had improved memory and speech as a result.
She came to the 100-hour number by looking at the benefits that people get as a result of volunteering.
Those who volunteer 110 hours or less receive benefits from volunteering without also feeling stressed or overwhelmed. 100 hours is the middle of this tradeoff.
A review of 45 years worth of studies on this topic in 2014 showed that seniors are in better physical and mental health as a result of volunteering.
They are happier, experience feelings of depression less often, have improved mental functioning, and have more social support and satisfaction overall.
70% of those who reported feeling depressed exhibited fewer symptoms at the end of that year as a result of volunteering.
Of those who reported three to four symptoms of depression, 63% had less symptoms the next year.
Physical Activity and Health Benefits
Seniors who volunteer are not only mentally stimulated but also participating in physical activity more often than they otherwise might have.
Maintaining a good level of fitness helps stave off disease as people get older.
It is important to note, however, that seniors who plan to volunteer should arrange opportunities that fit around their existing schedules and other commitments.
A study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University also proved that individuals over 50 who volunteered were at decreased risk for developing high blood pressure.
High blood pressure leads to stroke, heart attack, and other conditions. It also reduces stress in the right circumstances when the type of volunteer work is considered along with the time commitment involved.
Volunteering may even lead to seniors living longer. The journal Healthy Psychology published a study in 2012 about volunteering and found this to be true for some participants.
Those volunteers who participated in work regularly for altruistic purposes seemed to live longer compared to others.
Providing a Sense of Purpose
Volunteering makes seniors feel better mentally and physically. It also provides a sense of purpose. Often times, seniors who have retired might lose this after leaving the workforce.
This does not diminish time spent getting to travel, spending time with friends and family, or participating in hobbies, and other activities.
But having a purpose in life is still important. Its’ purpose that motivates someone to get out of bed in the morning in order to get something done.
The feeling of accomplishment that comes finishing a job or helping someone else complete something cannot be substituted elsewhere.
Professionals like teachers or nurses may choose to volunteer in a position that utilizes their skills like tutoring someone or volunteering as a patient advocate.
This allows them to keep their skillset current and keep their hand in the profession without the stress and pressure in the workforce. They can also give back at the same time.
Connecting to Others
Taking the time to volunteer helps seniors become more involved in their community or re-establish that connection if they did so in the past.
By helping with tasks and spending a few hours each week, a senior can make new friends, expand their social network and improve their social skills.
Building a connection with other people through volunteering is also fun. By participating in activities, bonds are created which bring enjoyment to everyone. It also sparks creativity and joy in people in ways that other hobbies or a job cannot.
Bridging the Generation Gap
One of the benefits of getting older is experience as well as wisdom. The experiences and wisdom of seniors can be used to help and empower the next generation.
Baltimore Experience Corps based out of Baltimore has brought older adults and children together since 1995.
Older adult volunteers help to provide academic, social, and emotional support to children. The program benefits both participants. Kids are receiving the help and support they need. Seniors, on the other hand, get to see the impact of their work and have the opportunity to be generative.
A study of the program released in 2015 revealed that senior participants in the corps program became more active and engaged.
In some cases, people even increased their volunteer hours. In this study, seniors are viewed as a resource that often remains untapped. But upon being engaged, a senior is able to help themselves and their community all at the same time.
The Foster Grandparents program is another example of seniors connecting with children for mutual benefit. The program pairs seniors with children who have special needs or who come from a disadvantaged background. These children may or may not have the benefit of having their own grandparent.
So when a senior goes into a hospital, school, or child center to volunteer as a grandparent, it helps both parties create a bond in a way that they may not get the opportunity to otherwise.
Volunteering is always good for the soul and the community. But it has an overwhelmingly positive impact for seniors in terms of their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
The sense of purpose and enjoyment that comes out of volunteering is something that cannot be duplicated any other way.