Volunteerism and Aging

Volunteer services provide an attractive role for many aged individuals. Interestingly, women have traditionally volunteered, but the greatest increase in volunteering has been among elderly men. The number of older women who volunteer has remained relatively constant.

Statistically, 35% of the 65 and older population are engaged in some type of volunteer work. Most of the work is with religious organizations. Those who are involved as volunteers feel they are contributing to their community and are filling gaps in services that otherwise might be unmet. Their self-esteem and usefulness appears to prevail. Here is a list of several programs that include senior volunteer opportunities:

  • National Network on Aging
  • Nursing Home Ombudsman Program
  • Foster Grandparent Program
  • Retired Senior Volunteer Program
  • Senior Companion Program
  • Senior Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE)
  • National Volunteer School Programs such as teacher aides.

Many of these programs consist of payment to volunteers or other inducements to supplement a low income. During these fiscally troubled times, it may be possible to attract more volunteers into these programs.

One particular reason for joining a volunteer group is the social component of contact with other volunteers of a similar generation. What about volunteering in a nursing home? This can be a meaningful and rewarding experience for senior citizens.

During my time working in long term care, I had a chance to peruse the facilities monthly resident newsletters, and on occasion, participated in several of the various activities offered and listed below:

  • songfests and sing-alongs with outside performers
  • current news discussions with local newscasters
  • friendly visits to those who were bedridden
  • welcoming committee as representative to the newly admitted resident.

There are also counseling and training programs in which volunteers learn interviewing skills and develop their ability to deal with residents who are lonely and/or depressed. These particular roles have potential for elevating the resident’s esteem and hold great potential for meeting the needs of many elderly. The older generation often can be skeptical of professional counseling but tend to readily accept help from their peers. Peer counseling programs have been appearing across the country. These programs train elders to help others deal with the major transitions of life such as relocation, loss of a spouse, retirement, or with the unanticipated crises that may come with growing old. There are also programs for volunteers of interfaith orientation and there are communities nationwide that have organized interfaith volunteer programs to provide in-home services for frail elders. These efforts have been organized and supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers program demonstrates the commitment of religious congregations that service the needs of those in the community. Initially, these programs were funded through religious denominations in 25 communities. Within three years, 900 participating congregations had recruited 11,000 volunteers and provided in-home services to over 26,000 individuals.

It appears that the volunteer role can be challenging in a positive way, and especially meaningful in later years to compensate for the potential loss of adult roles.

Group involvement, along with volunteer work, has been seen as a major means of increasing life satisfaction.

A resident I once cared for expressed it as his “freeing” or role change, when he began doing some volunteer work in his choice of venue. “This is another stage of my life and a most exciting one. I have the time and freedom to develop new interests that I had always wanted to pursue but never could fit in when my life was so full of other things that didn’t mean very much at the time.”

Final Thought:
For those who are seeking new ways, brighter days and productive years ahead, then volunteerism is a good option.

Quotable Quote: “Don’t get all weird about getting older. Our age is merely the number of years the world has been enjoying us.” Anon.
Share this post:

Comments on "Volunteerism and Aging"

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment