Volunteering Provides Purpose and Meaning to Life – as Well as Lots of Great Health Benefits!
April 15-21 is National Volunteer Week.
Many older Americans find it more and more difficult to maintain a sense of purpose and self-esteem as they age. Their children may be grown and raising families of their own. They often no longer work, retired from their lifetime careers. The opportunity to feel connected and valuable becomes more and more of a challenge for many seniors.
For more and more seniors, volunteering is providing that sense of purpose and meaning in life, as well as promoting socialization and physical activity. Volunteering offers a tremendous boost to healthy aging. Numerous studies confirm that seniors with a sense of purpose are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, disabilities, heart attacks or strokes, and are more likely to live longer than people who are still searching for a purposeful outlet. A study conducted by Drs. Randy Cohen and Alan Rozanski and colleagues at Mt. Sinai St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York found that having a high sense of purpose in life is associated with a reduced risk for mortality and cardiovascular events. An article that appeared in the American Medical Association News even urged doctors to “prescribe” volunteer service for their patients!
Seniors also tend to be at higher risk for depression. Another study conducted at the University of California, Riverside showed that practicing acts of kindness can be an effective way of treating depression. The researchers used brain imaging to demonstrate that altruistic behaviors and other positive interactions can boost circuits in the brain that reverse depression and apathy. Looking for ways to lift your spirits? Volunteer!
Healthcare providers and service organizations alike are calling this new emphasis on volunteer service a big win-win. Social service agencies, community groups, nonprofit organizations, schools and cultural organizations all report that they rely more than ever on volunteers to help their programs succeed. Fortunately, help has arrived as seniors are stepping up in greater numbers to offer their services and give back to the community. The U.S. Administration on Aging reports that a record number of older adults are volunteering today. Almost a third of seniors volunteer—that’s over 20 million older adults, whose donated service is valued at $67 billion per year. A third of all volunteers are age 55 or older.
According to Dr. Erwin Tan, director of the U.S. Senior Corps volunteer program, “Today, Americans over 65 represent 13 percent of our population. By the year 2030, that number will be 20 percent. But while some may talk about how the aging of America is a problem to be solved, we at Senior Corps believe it is an opportunity for both individuals and communities. The boomer generation is the most educated and healthiest group of people over 55 that America has ever seen, and they are looking for ways to give back to their communities.”
So, if you’re ready to donate your services to a great cause, but aren’t sure where to start, visit volunteer.gov and look for opportunities in your area. Or visit www.bostoncares.org for ways to give back to people in the greater Boston area. If you’re still having trouble finding “just the right cause,” create your own volunteer opportunity! Call an organization that interests you and see if they have a volunteer program. If you have the desire to give of your time and energy, volunteer opportunities await you. As most volunteers attest, you’ll likely get back far more than you give.