Mental Health for Seniors – The Power of Volunteering
What are you (or the elder in your life) passionate about? Is there a social cause or community that has always been close to your heart? Volunteering for that cause isn’t just a way to help the community, it also has powerful supportive effects on your mental and physical health.
Mental Benefits of Volunteering
Several studies have determined that seniors benefit greatly from volunteering, which lowers the risk of depression, dementia, and potentially even Alzheimer’s. Research suggests that these benefits result from the high self-esteem, greater life satisfaction, and meaningful community connections which those who volunteer experience. In particular, volunteering offers new social connections and prevents feelings of isolation, which far too many elders experience.
Physical Benefits of Volunteering
There are physical benefits of volunteering too, including the likelihood that you’ll live longer. Studies show that the physical benefits of volunteering boost a senior’s independence and therefore further benefit their mental health.
Choose Your Cause Carefully
To maximize the sense of purpose and accomplishment you can receive from volunteering, it’s best to choose a cause or organization that truly matters to you, or where you feel you can put your skills to their best use. For example, elders can act as key role models for children and young adults, and volunteering in schools or with sporting organizations is a great way to make this connection. Volunteering with your religious community is also a popular choice for seniors.
Other popular places where seniors volunteer include hospitals or health facilities, food banks, and homeless shelters. Look for charities who need a volunteer’s time, rather than goods or a monetary donation. Instead of volunteering with people, many seniors prefer to spend their time volunteering at animal shelters or wildlife sanctuaries.
If you’re not sure where you’d like to volunteer, services like Volunteer Match are a great way to find out what’s needed most in your area. You’ll find many opportunities geared to seniors with specific talents.
Draw on your existing skills and passions when choosing an organization to volunteer with. Whether you like to play an instrument, have leadership skills to direct other volunteers, have legal knowledge, can support people in crisis, are skilled in the arts or crafts, can cook, have a knack for beauty services like nails, hail, or makeup, or have experience caring for and socializing animals, you’ll find that many organizations are looking for skills like yours. You may even find that you can put the knowledge and skills gained in your previous career to great use as a volunteer.
When selecting a volunteer opportunity, consider what you can give, and what you’ll get out of the position. One study found that elders benefited more from their volunteering time if the organization offered them training, on-going support, and allowed the volunteer to be flexible with their schedule. So, try to choose an organization that provides support, training, and most importantly flexibility. Seniors have rated the ability to choose their own volunteering schedule as a big factor in the quality of their volunteer experience.
Truly, one of the benefits of aging is having the time to contribute to the causes that have always called to you. If you can incorporate your skills and other passions, all the better. Not only will you enrich other peoples’ lives, you’ll reap benefits in your own life as well.