As we age, we may begin to feel less helpful or even “useless.” This is particularly true for the senior who begins to feel isolated and depressed. While most seniors don’t want to return to the workforce, volunteering is a good way for seniors to share their knowledge and experience, and to combat any sense of isolation and depression.
Seniors who volunteer may reap unexpected benefits which can improve their outlook on life and their health. Here are five ways that volunteering may benefit older adults:
Seniors have a wealth of knowledge and experience. Unfortunately, our society does not always encourage interaction between seniors and the young. Volunteering is a good way to bridge the generation gap.
Whether it is through a program such as Adopt a Grandparent where seniors can provide support and love to a child or teen or through community action that brings the senior into contact with young adults, both seniors and youngsters benefit from this relationship. The child, teen or young adult gets the benefit of the senior’s knowledge and life experience and the senior gets the satisfaction of validation. In addition, each may benefit from changing mindsets about the old and the young.
Meeting New Friends
Isolation is a major concern as we age. The senior may have lost loved ones and family members may no longer be as close as they once were. As the elder loses the contact with friends and family, volunteering may bring new friends into his or her life. Volunteering at community centers, libraries, animal shelters or other group activities and locations may provide the opportunity to make friends – both of the senior’s age and other age groups. New friends and social activities can help to combat feelings of isolation.
Depression is also common amongst seniors who are facing physical and mental changes. Volunteering may bring the opportunity to learn new skills and meet new people. It may give the senior something to look forward to and excitement helps to increase brain activity which can improve cognition and boost the mood state. The senior should be encouraged to find an activity which they enjoy and can anticipate with pleasure.
Staying Physically Active
Many seniors face physical decline and may feel that physical activity is no longer important or even possible. Volunteering can provide the senior with a reason to remain physically active and even get more exercise. Animal Shelters and libraries may give the elder a chance for modest walking-type activity but even from a wheelchair, there are volunteer opportunities for older persons. In fact, most volunteer positions will provide at least some activity.
Anything that alleviates depression, improves mental health and cognition, provides physical activity, and allows the senior to joyfully anticipate activity can help to improve the health. Excitement and physical activity will increase blood flow to the brain and feeling good about one’s self will produce “happy hormones” such as neurotransmitters like serotonin. This produces “positive feedback” encouraging the elder to do more, making volunteering produce benefits over and over again.
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