Being a volunteer can transform senior’s life – but not enough people know that yet. Volunteering can help to provide elder people with ways out of poverty, by giving them new skills and confidence, and aid social integration. This is of particular value to those who are most excluded from the labor market, such as people with disabilities, and especially the elderly.
There are many reasons for people not to volunteer. For older people, the barriers can include poor health, poverty, lack of skills, poor access (lack of transport links), or having caring responsibilities, such as looking after grandchildren. A survey developed by Volunteeringmatters UK reports that less than 13% of people over 55 years old were keen to gain qualifications through volunteering, compared to 72% of young people (13-24 years old) . On the other hand, 94% of the responders over 65 years said that volunteering helped them have a sense of purpose.
Volunteers don’t just need access to opportunities, they also need continued support if they are to gain the most from their experience, and that, too, should focus on their individual needs.
In fact, past research showed that volunteering among elder persons is beneficial because it improves physical condition, fosters interpersonal trust, toleration and empathy for others, and respect for the common good.
As the literature review suggests, there are several reasons to expect that elderly adults may experience different effects as a result of volunteerism than younger adults. If the predictions of activity theory hold assessments and with measures of morbidity and mortality, being a volunteer should be more positively associated with well-being among elderly persons than among younger adults because elderly volunteers are more active than younger volunteers. Second, elderly persons are less likely to be involved in other activities, such as employment and child rearing, and therefore their volunteer work may have a greater effect on their well-being.
Volunteering’s benefits for the elderly
- life satisfaction,
- life experiences,
- perceived health,
- social integration,
- social suport,
- skills development.
The attention to senior volunteers has been warranted, not only because seniors are less likely to have other social roles to keep them active, socially integrated, and feeling productive, but because they experience the greatest benefits. Older volunteers experience greater psychological benefits for each hour that they contribute. Older adults who did not volunteer reported significantly worse health. Senior volunteers also reported higher levels of life satisfaction and perceived health than non-volunteers. The volunteers are the kind of people who are more satisfied with their lives and healthier in the first place.
What can be done to increase the participation of seniors in volunteering?
- positive appeal to older people and strenghtened recruitment,
- improved efforts and means for older volunteers recognition,
- improved supervision, development and management of volunteer programs,
- removal or reduction of specific impediments to older volunteer recruitment and retention efforts.
Local health and social care leaders are starting to recognize the power of volunteering and the importance of diversifying the pool of volunteers. This could break down some of the existing barriers to volunteering – and give everyone a chance to transform their own lives and those of others.
Encourage your senior to start the adventure with volunteering! Explain the benefits, look for organisations that recruit seniors as volunteers, help in signing in, suport on every step!