Even thought this article is being published in January I wrote it before Christmas, a time of giving, and I decided to explore the potential benefits of giving one’s time, of volunteerism. So, let’s talk about volunteering, and specifically it’s impact on healthy aging, if any. Volunteer Canada has posted an overview on line of the recent literature, what little there is, that studies the health effects of volunteerism on retires.
While the article indicates that there are benefits to volunteerism, it also points to some problems with the data, like not enough studies being done, and studies not designed to indicate causality of effects. For instance, while there is evidence to indicate that those who volunteer feel greater life satisfaction there is no way of knowing if the volunteering provided this effect or if people who have a greater sense of well being volunteer. At any rate 70 percent of volunteering retirees reported feeling a greater life satisfaction than non-volunteers. It is pointed out that the few studies done did try to control the variables of health and socioeconomic status, meaning that all those polled, whether an older volunteer or part of a control group of comparison non-volunteers, have the same health status, financial means and educational background. These facts would positively impact the validity of the studies.
Importantly, 85 percent of those working with an older volunteer do better than those without help. Interestingly enough older volunteer seem to excel in counseling and enabling roles, having greater reported success in these roles than those of financial planning, advocacy, mediation, and information referral. I would speculate here that this is due to the greater life experience of the volunteer. The report goes so far as to indicate that older volunteers garner similar results in comparison to paid social workers.
While this article suggests that more study is needed to define which aspects of volunteering are most beneficial, social interaction, physical activity, a sense of purposefulness, or the fact that one’s co-volunteers act as an early warning system and support system to any potential problems, it dose indicate that there are health benefits to volunteering that are not experienced as greatly by simply participating in group or club activities. Specifically, those who volunteer formally report a greater sense of overall health.
All the studies done thus far on aging and volunteerism indicate that it positively impacts life satisfaction, overall health, vitality, and a sense of well being, as well as social connection versus social isolation, a sense of purposefulness.
If you are interested in reading the full article it is available on line at Volunteer Canada’s web sight, http://volunteer.ca/en/volcan/older-adults/canada_adults_report7, or if you are interested in volunteering and you are on line you can type volunteering in Chilliwack into your browser and you should find you are presented with several options, including the city of Chilliwack’s web page, which provides a list of places to volunteer and available position when you click on the link www.volweb.ca. Unfortunately there is no phone number to call for general volunteer opportunities. But, if there is an issue or cause you are interested in I would encourage you to call that organization and get involved. It may be more beneficial to you than you expect.Have a happy New Year, Sharon Grant, BA, ADC, MA (candidate).