Count Me In - The Benefits of Volunteering for the Elderly
If you’ve been up early on a Saturday, you might have bumped into your local parkrun. While the fast runners fly by, you’ll see kids, dads pushing buggies and mums out with the family dog. It’s inspiring to see families getting fitter and enjoying the fresh air. The remarkable thing? It all happens thanks to volunteers.
By giving their time to run the events, parkrun volunteers have built a wonderful community. They know that they are helping others. They know they are making a difference. But they also see a subtle shift in themselves, and an extra spring in their step.
Lots of studies show that volunteering is one of the best things you can do for your wellbeing. It doesn’t matter how old you are. By helping others, you feel connected and pay less attention to day-to-day worries. So if you’d like to help an older person, give them a nudge. Volunteering might be just what they need – and it will fend off feelings of loneliness or lack of purpose.
How older volunteers benefit
Older volunteers actually get the most from being out of the house and working with others. It’s very good for their mental health. And even if a project isn’t physically demanding, it still means getting up and moving. Stocking up a food bank is a better workout than sitting on a sofa. So is visiting patients at a nursing home. This increased activity is just one of the reasons older volunteers report feeling younger. They’re more likely to take care of themselves in general, including keeping their weight under control.
Volunteering is also a confidence boost, at any age. It can give older people the chance to try something new or different, and feel valued after retirement. Supporting a shared cause means becoming part of a team, and often a wider community. When we work together, we build close relationships and feel more connected. We know that this is good for us – protecting our brains, and lowering the risks of depression and anxiety.
Some older folk worry that volunteering just isn’t for them. Perhaps they’re worried about problems with mobility, with fitting in, or not having the right skills. But the truth is that there are loads of different ways to help out. If they’re reasonably active, volunteering at parkrun could be just the job. If walking is an issue, they could become a telephone friend to someone who’s housebound.
Of course, some opportunities are tailor-made for older people. They can bring a lifetime of wisdom and experience to things like organising clubs, helping with work skills and mentoring younger people. For example, Grandmentors matches older volunteers with care leavers who need some help and support.
It’s worth doing some research to see what’s out there. A good place to start looking is Do it, a website for volunteering in the UK. You can search more than a million opportunities by interest, activity or where you live. They’re posted by national and local charities and all kinds of voluntary groups. You could also try the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and Volunteering Matters.
There’s an old saying about helping others. It points out that volunteers don’t get paid - not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless. It’s true. It’s a nice bonus that when you change the lives of others, you help yourself along the way.
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