Many family caregivers are worried about their seniors who are living independently and may be alone much of the time.
There are only so many hours in the week that a working family caregiver can devote to spending with a senior when there is no crisis requiring undivided attention. What that might mean is that your senior loved one could be getting bored or lonely. He or she may need some encouragement to get active and stay engaged.
How else can you get your senior to socialize and engage with others so that they are not isolated or at risk for depression?
Volunteerism is one good way to encourage your senior loved one to get out of the house and help others who could benefit from their expertise and life experience. Not to mention the joy it will bring them when they can help someone or make a difference.
Our grandparents were volunteers delivering home bound seniors meals well into their 80s. They would often joke that they were caring for ‘youngsters’ since many of those they served were younger than they were at the time. They did this for over twenty years and only stopped when the driving and carrying boxes became more difficult.
In other words, you are never too old to help others — and, in doing so, yourselves.
Benefits for Seniors Who Volunteer
We all can see how seniors who are more engaged socially and physically when they have scheduled activities to complete receive physical and mental benefits. A recent study published in the Physiological Bulletin completed a meta-analysis of over 70 studies that included those over 50 who participated in formal volunteering roles.
The studies all measured outcomes such as happiness, physical health, depression, cognitive functioning, feeling of social support and life satisfaction. All things we hope for our senior loved ones!
Their findings of those actively volunteering included a reduction in depression, improved overall health, fewer functional limitations and even improved longevity. The ideal amount of time spent volunteering was 2-3 hours per week. More hours spent volunteering did not appear to correlate a greater benefit for these seniors, nor was a negative impact implied.
Researchers found that when seniors felt appreciated or needed as a volunteer it further improved the relationship between volunteering and their well-being.
Win-Win from Volunteerism
It is amazing to see the way our seniors can be inspired to help others and also to improve their own health and happiness. We can see their sense of purpose, the stories they have to tell about their adventures, and the bonds of friendships they make with those they work with as well as those they serve. What we don’t want to overlook is the other side of the coin, the communities and people that they help! Everyone benefits from volunteerism – it’s a win win!
Seniors have been enlisted to help in innumerable ways that benefit so many. If your senior can envision it, has an interest in it or has a location to serve, there is an opportunity waiting for them. These are some examples.
- Senior Corps – seniors are involved in government programs, including the Foster Grandparent Program, Retired Senior Volunteer Program, and the Senior Companion Program. In 2010, more than 440,000 Senior Corps volunteers provided 98 million hours of service worth over $2 billion.
- Long Term Care Ombudsman – a program of the Administration on Aging which provides advocacy for those in long term care situations.
- Organizations of interest to the senior such as the Audubon Society, Library, Quilt Guild, Alzheimer’s Association, Rotary Club, Pilot Association, Kiwanis, Lion’s Club, United Way, Church, Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, Senior Centers, Meals on Wheels, and a multitude of other groups.
- Mentoring school children, tutoring, reading stories, and other tasks as needed to help school children of all ages.
- There are meaningful causes for which your senior can volunteer, including helping the homeless, beautifying the shoreline or roadways, saving the whales, rescuing animals from harm, recycling, and other activities that will improve the community and the planet.
- Political party or campaign supporter. It doesn’t matter what their opinion might be, they can help local politicians get elected or get others out to vote.
- Share their knowledge or work experience such as helping others complete their taxes.
- Serve as a docent at the museum or help guests find their seats at the theater and take advantage of the arts.
- Visit local senior living facilities, play cards, sing songs, play an instrument, deliver their mail and brighten someone else’s day.
- Work with Veterans Affairs, help a vet or a wounded soldier. There are things that your senior can do even if it is simply being a friend.
You can encourage your senior to become a volunteer if they are hesitant or are not sure what they could do to contribute.
You may need to set up some situations to check a few opportunities out before they feel they have to make a firm commitment. It would be a good idea to be sure they have adequate transportation to get there and back safely.
Caution them to not overdo any activities. Just because they are volunteering doesn’t mean they have to lift things or stand all day just because someone else might be. Remind them to do what they are capable of doing so as to remain safe while they are giving back.
Let them know they have something to contribute to the lives of others.
They will certainly feel a sense of accomplishment, a purpose to the day and socialize with a variety of people. Who knows what other good things it could lead to…friends, good health and fun!