April 15th to 21st is National Volunteer Week. We need volunteers more now than ever who can focus on the needs of older adults. Our nation is on the cusp of one of the most dramatic demographic shifts in its history as a projected 71.5 million people will be age 65 or older by the year 2030. And we recognize that aging is, for many, a complex and fearful unknown – but it doesn’t have to be.
What is powerful about volunteering is it helps the older adult avoid isolation and loneliness, as well has being a tremendous benefit to the volunteers themselves. New research shows that the volunteers are enjoying health benefits after just one year of service, including decreases in anxiety and depression, loneliness and social isolation. They also report enhanced physical capacity and higher life satisfaction. A study of Americans over age 60 found that those who volunteer reported lower disability and higher levels of well-being relative to non-volunteers. The effects of volunteering were found to be greater than other factors including income, education level, or marriage (Morrow-Howell et al., 2003).
There are many opportunities to volunteer in the aging network. Some ideas are senior centers and day programs, home repair and homemaker services, information and referral, Meals on Wheels and congregate meal programs. Other ideas are transportation, companion services, HICAP counselling and the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program.
To quote President George H. W. Bush:
Every problem that the country faces is being solved in some community by some group or some individual. The question is how to get connected so that the whole nation can solve problems. A volunteer is a person who can see what others cannot see; who can feel what most do not feel. Often, such gifted persons do not think of themselves as volunteers, but as citizens – citizens in the fullest sense; partners in civilization.