Senior Volunteers

How To Volunteer As A Senior

Updated for January, 2019

Ramona Griego, an 81-year-old retiree, had recently lost her husband and, according to the AARP, her diabetes wasn’t getting any better. She soon developed depression and was looking for a way to improve her situation. After looking at different available options, Griego soon turned to volunteering.

With the help of the Corporation for National and Community Service, she got involved with her community after visiting a senior center and started helping people her own age stay active and engaged. She said, “The program has allowed me to enjoy my life as I age, and I feel important when I can help my clients with small things that allow them to remain in their homes.”

Volunteering truly gave Griego a new life. This is a common story for hundreds of thousands of elderly people. But this doesn’t mean that everyone knows how to get involved volunteering or the benefits of doing so. Before digging into that, let’s discuss how the breadth at which the elderly can volunteer.

Millions of elderly people—those 65 and older—volunteer every year, but given this population is higher than 48 million (and projected to reach 80 million by 2050), there is plenty of room for growth here.

Between 2011 and 2015, the rate of the elderly population that volunteered has stayed about the same, according to theBureau of Labor Statistics. (The rate has dropped about 5 percent for those between 55 and 64.) Although it’d be great to see an increase in that rate, that still means that more than 11 million seniors volunteered at least once in 2015. Overall, the elderly makes up almost 25 percent of the volunteer population, and if you include the 55-64 demographic, it’s more than 35 percent.

According to the Corporation for National Community & Service, the most common forms of volunteering are:

  • Collecting, serving, preparing, or distributing food

  • Fundraising or selling items to raise money

  • Engaging in general labor, like helping build homes or clean up parks

  • Tutoring or teaching

  • Mentoring the youth

  • Collecting, making, or distributing clothing

Because of the rate at which they are more likely to be retired, elderly people simply have more time on their hands than almost every other age demographic that’s eligible to work. Despite this, they don’t have the highest percentage of the population who volunteer—that belongs to those aged 35 to 54 who are also at the height of their working days. So let’s figure out exactly why volunteering is so important.Volunteering has its social, mental, and physical benefits for people of all ages. But these benefits truly reveal themselves for elderly folks, who often have more times on their hands, are less physically active, and engage less with the community than the average resident. According to research conducted by multiple outlets, volunteers live longer, and that’s because of a culmination of all the benefits we’re about to discuss.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons:

Socially beneficial

One of the biggest difficulties for elderly people, especially after retirement, is staying social. Isolation occurs when seniors “have little contact with adult children, other relatives, or friends,” according to Forbes. The AARPestimates that up to 17 percent of Americans 55 and older could be isolated from society. Forbes also notes that the main issues that stem from being isolated include a higher rate or mortality, higher medical bills, and greater likelihood of developing an illness. Volunteering can pull elderly folks out of isolation, even if it’s only for a handful of hours a week. Volunteering at events at local religious institutions, parks, and museums are a great way to interact with a wide range people in the community.

Good for your mental cognition

As we age, there’s an increase in the likelihood of someone developing cognitive issues, other memory loss issues, and motor function diseases. One thing that can help slow the advancements of these diseases is staying active and using your brain. Volunteering provides opportunities to keep conversation flowing, constantly stimulate the brain, and help overall cognitive functions stay active. One study discovered that 70 percent of elderly people who were experiencing five or more symptoms of depression saw a decrease in those symptoms after their first year of volunteering.

Helps give back to the community

Just as it would feel good for any person, volunteering allows you to give back to the community. Something that may set an elderly person apart from any other individual is the wealth of knowledge they possess. Let’s say you spent 50 years feeding the poor while working for a nonprofit. You could then pass down generations of information to those looking to get into the nonprofit world at the volunteering level. This sense of giving isn’t limited to those who have worked a lifetime in a field, because elderly people can volunteer at youth camps, churches, and a slew of places where younger generations gather. You can even become a mentor to a young person simply by being around them, telling them stories, and teaching them about life.

Physically engaging

Whether it’s volunteering door-to-door for candidates in your local elections, helping build community gardens, or something in between, physical activity is vital for an elderly person. According to the University of Southern California’s School of Gerontology, less than one third of people between 65 and 74 are physically active. That number halves for those over 75. Inactivity as you age can promote the advancement of heart issues, bone loss, joint pain, fat, and a slew of other health issues. Getting out and volunteering can help combat these issues.