Volunteering Benefits

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The perks of senior volunteering are like icing on the cake for older adults who volunteer. The more they volunteer, the sweeter it gets.

“Volunteering provides many older adults with a purpose,” said Dr. Erwin Tan, director of Senior Corps, who serves as the expert source for the Salute to Senior Service℠ volunteer recognition program. “That purpose can help sustain a healthier lifestyle that includes increased physical, mental and social activity,” he added.

“There is a sense of well-being that you get from volunteering and it offers huge health benefits,” says Ruth MacKenzie, President and CEO of Volunteer Canada. “You get more physically active and intellectually active, and connect in a meaningful way to your community, and that’s the big one. The health benefits associated with volunteering are a means to combat isolation and loneliness.”

Volunteering and Chronic Conditions

It appears that volunteering may pay special dividends for seniors who have chronic health conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Three-fourths of these seniors in the U.S. (75 percent), and even more in Canada (86 percent) say that staying active through volunteering helps them manage these conditions, according to research conducted by the Home Instead Senior Care® network.

Seniors with chronic conditions devote slightly more hours to community service each month when compared with seniors who have no chronic conditions. They are more likely than other seniors to say that their volunteer hours will decrease in the next five years, but they also are more likely to say they plan to continue volunteering “forever”.

The emotional benefits of volunteering are particularly relevant for seniors with chronic conditions. For example, 77 percent of seniors with chronic conditions say an important reason they volunteer is to overcome feeling depressed, compared with 63 percent of seniors without chronic conditions.

Following are other benefits of volunteering those 65 and older in the U.S. have reported, according to this research.

  1. Strengthened Mission99 percent want to make a difference. Whether it’s passing out lunches to the homeless or building a home for a family in need, nearly all senior volunteers want to make a difference.

  2. Improved Physical Health98 percent stay active and feel better physically. Recent research confirms what other studies have revealed: giving back pays special dividends in increased activity, which often results in improved health.

  3. Stronger Emotional Foundation98 percent feel better emotionally. Perhaps it’s the idea of putting others’ needs before one’s own, but older volunteers almost always feel better emotionally.

  4. Renewed Spiritual Purpose98 percent gain a sense of purpose. Along with a need to make a difference, senior volunteers overwhelmingly want to gain a sense of purpose.

  5. Shared wisdom90 percent want to share their talents, skills and experience. Many older adults have spent a lifetime in careers or honing domestic and creative skills that they are more than happy to share with others.

  6. Refreshed Perspective and Mental Acuity84 percent want to occupy their free time. Published studies from the Baltimore Experience Corps Trial showed that senior volunteering in the classroom helped support certain mental tasks like “executive function” or brain activity in key areas of the brain.

  7. Effective Pain Remedy75 percent with chronic conditions say volunteering helps them manage these conditions. It appears that giving back could serve as an important stress reliever and distraction for seniors suffering from various chronic conditions such as arthritis, diabetes and high blood pressure.

  8. Invigorated Social Networks74 percent are able to overcome feeling isolated. There’s no time when the risk of isolation is as great as the senior years. Volunteering gives many seniors a reason to walk out the door each morning.

  9. Better Mental Outlook70 percent are able to overcome feeling depressed. Depression is among the biggest challenges faced by older adults who have lost spouses or whose families have moved away or are too busy for them. Nearly three-fourths in the survey say volunteering can help.

  10. Long-Lasting Legacies53 percent say that they learned the importance of volunteering from their parents’ community service and 84 percent say they have encouraged their children to give back to their communities.

Home Instead’s U.S. and Canadian Executive Summaries (PDF) tell a more complete story about the life and health of North American older adults.