How Seniors Win When They Volunteer

Life Enrichment Coordinator Melissa Allen wonders what she’d do without the assistance of two volunteers at St. Catharines Place retirement residence. Shirley, 83, helps out by explaining daily activities to each table at breakfast every morning. Joan, 90, offered a sympathetic ear when a former resident and cancer patient felt like talking. “If I have a day where I’m drowning in work, they are amazing at helping me out,” says Melissa.

They do everything from handing out information at a social event to acting as ambassadors to help new residents adjust.

Research says that volunteers like Shirley and Joan may be benefiting more than they realize from the act of helping out. A Baycrest study that examined 73 studies of older adults who volunteered found the activity offered tremendous advantages including reduced symptoms of depression, better overall health, fewer functional limitations and greater longevity. The benefits seemed to be tied to a moderate level of volunteering (two to three hours a week) and seniors who were most vulnerable (i.e. with chronic health problems) seemed to benefit the most. Finally, the study found that feeling appreciated or needed as a volunteer appears to be connected to feelings of psychosocial wellbeing.

Shirley certainly isn’t new to the idea of volunteering: she joined the Ladies’ Auxiliary at the hospital after she retired from nursing. “We helped out with whatever was needed, often raising money though bazaars,” she says. Through the Victorian Order of Nurses, Shirley also helped run programs for people with Parkinson’s disease.

Joan can still remember her first time volunteering: she was fourteen and living in England when war broke out. “We lived in the country and we had evacuee children, aged four to fourteen, sent from London,” she says. “The Girl Guides had volunteered to help. We had a list and we placed the children in homes.”

Much later, Joan helped for ten years with the Out of the Cold program at her church. Every Wednesday from November through March the church provided food and shelter for homeless people in St. Catharines. “We had more men than ladies. Once in a while we used to have children, which was sad.” She did whatever was needed, from shopping for supplies for the spaghetti dinner, to cooking, cleaning up, arranging entertainment or appealing for funds to keep the program running. “I think volunteering is good for you,” Joan says. “It gives you a reason to get up in the morning.”

Visit a nearby BayBridge Senior Living community today to find out how you can get involved in the community as much — or as little — as you like.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email