Volunteering and Chronic Conditions
It appears that volunteering may pay special dividends for seniors who have chronic health conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Three-fourths of these seniors in the U.S. (75 percent), and even more in Canada (86 percent) say that staying active through volunteering helps them manage these conditions, according to research conducted by the Home Instead Senior Care® network.
Seniors with chronic conditions devote slightly more hours to community service each month when compared with seniors who have no chronic conditions. They are more likely than other seniors to say that their volunteer hours will decrease in the next five years, but they also are more likely to say they plan to continue volunteering “forever”.
The emotional benefits of volunteering are particularly relevant for seniors with chronic conditions. For example, 77 percent of seniors with chronic conditions say an important reason they volunteer is to overcome feeling depressed, compared with 63 percent of seniors without chronic conditions.
Here are some other benefits of volunteering those 65 and older in the U.S. that were reported, according to this research.
- Strengthened Mission—99 percent want to make a difference. Whether it’s passing out
lunches to the homeless or building a home for a family in need, nearly all senior volunteers
want to make a difference.
- Improved Physical Health—98 percent stay active and feel better physically. Recent
research confirms what other studies have revealed: giving back pays special dividends in
increased activity, which often results in improved health.
- Stronger Emotional Foundation—98 percent feel better emotionally. Perhaps it’s the
idea of putting others’ needs before one’s own, but older volunteers almost always feel better
- Renewed Spiritual Purpose—98 percent gain a sense of purpose. Along with a need to
make a difference, senior volunteers overwhelmingly want to gain a sense of purpose.
- Shared wisdom—90 percent want to share their talents, skills and experience. Many
older adults have spent a lifetime in careers or honing domestic and creative skills that
they are more than happy to share with others.
- Refreshed Perspective and Mental Acuity—84 percent want to occupy their free time.
Published studies from the Baltimore Experience Corps Trial showed that senior volunteering
in the classroom helped support certain mental tasks like “executive function” or brain activity
in key areas of the brain.
- Effective Pain Remedy—75 percent with chronic conditions say volunteering helps them
manage these conditions. It appears that giving back could serve as an important stress reliever
and distraction for seniors suffering from various chronic conditions such as arthritis,
diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Invigorated Social Networks—74 percent are able to overcome feeling isolated. There’s
no time when the risk of isolation is as great as the senior years. Volunteering gives many
seniors a reason to walk out the door each morning.
- Better Mental Outlook—70 percent are able to overcome feeling depressed. Depression is
among the biggest challenges faced by older adults who have lost spouses or whose families
have moved away or are too busy for them. Nearly three-fourths in the survey say volunteering
- Long-Lasting Legacies—53 percent say that they learned the importance of volunteering
from their parents’ community service and 84 percent say they have encouraged their children
to give back to their communities.
“Volunteering provides many older adults with a purpose,” said Dr. Erwin Tan, director of Senior Corps, who serves as the expert source for the Salute to Senior Service℠ volunteer recognition program. “That purpose can help sustain a healthier lifestyle that includes increased physical, mental and social activity,” he added.
“There is a sense of well-being that you get from volunteering and it offers huge health benefits,” says Ruth MacKenzie, President and CEO of Volunteer Canada. “You get more physically active and intellectually active, and connect in a meaningful way to your community, and that’s the big one. The health benefits associated with volunteering are a means to combat isolation and loneliness.”
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