The giving of one’s personal time, goodwill and expertise can be meaningful to a person of any age. But older adults often find it especially rewarding. Maybe that’s why more than 1 in 5 seniors volunteer.1 In fact, Baby Boomers lead all other age groups who volunteer, providing 2.2 billion service hours each year.2
“[Volunteering is] good for the mind, and for socialization; it’s the idea that we’re all lifelong learners,” says certified career coach Marcia Wall.3 “There is value in learning for learning’s sake,” Wall continues. “Volunteering is an affirmation that your time hasn’t ended.”4
Gerontologist Dan Levitt agrees. “What you do for others tells others what is important to you and how you make a difference in their lives. People who are engaged in their communities at older ages live longer and remain healthier physically and mentally.”5
Benefits of volunteering for seniors
Senior volunteers who serve with the intention of helping others make a big difference in people’s lives. Research also shows that volunteering offers many benefits that may make a big difference in the lives of the senior volunteers themselves, including:6
- Improved physical and mental health
Among adults, age 60 and over, volunteers report better physical health than those who don’t volunteer. Research also shows that volunteering leads to lower rates of anxiety. Plus, it leads to the release of dopamine, the “feel good” body chemical that helps reduce stress. Lower stress levels further reduce the risk of other physical and mental problems including heart disease, stroke, depression and general illness.7
Furthermore, a 2020 study revealed that older adults who volunteered for 100 hours a year (less than 2 hours a week) for 4 years experienced:8
- Reduced risk of mortality
- Reduced risk of physical limitations
- Increased physical activity
- Increased positive feelings
- A new sense of purpose
Since the work they do is essential to themselves and others, volunteers experience a new sense of purpose, especially when volunteering in an area they find the most meaningful. Older volunteers also experience bigger increases in overall satisfaction and self-esteem.9
- Nurturing of new and existing relationships
1 of the best ways to cultivate new friends and fortify existing relationships is by participating in a shared activity based on common interests. Seniors who dedicate their time to volunteering are able to expand their social networks while continuing to practice and improve their social skills.
What to consider before seniors volunteer
As they explore volunteer opportunities, it’s a good idea for older adults to keep the following in mind to ensure the most satisfying experience.10
- Decide on the type of volunteering to be done. Seniors should look for organizations that best match their abilities, interests, skills and desires.
- Check out the organization’s mission statement, vision and values. Do they correspond to the senior volunteer’s personal beliefs and overall goals?
- Consider the organization type. For non-profits, make sure the agency is in good standing and has 501(c)(3) information listed on its website and/or printed material.
- Find and read the organization’s reviews. Pay particular attention to how it responds, especially to any negative feedback from customers or employees.
Potential senior volunteer opportunities
Some of these organizations specifically welcome older adults, while others are generally inclusive of different age groups.
- AmeriCorps Seniors. People 55 and older can choose from volunteer opportunities that range from home visits with older adults to mentoring students in the classroom.
- Local, state and national parks. These opportunities may be one-offs or long-term commitments and include such activities as removing invasive plants to serving as campground hosts or tour guides.
- Food delivery services. The most well-known, Meals on Wheels, has more than 5,000 nationwide locations and a volunteer base of 2 million people delivering lunch to older adults who can’t leave home.
- Animal shelters. The Humane Society of the United States offers nationwide volunteer opportunities providing care to animals, serving as local policy leaders or offering phone support for legislative issues and voting.
- Foster grandparent programs. Seniors who’d like to educate, mentor and care for children in need can join programs sponsored by AmeriCorps or local faith-based organizations.
- Community gardens. Seniors with a green thumb may enjoy donating their time to local efforts and help with a variety of plant growing and harvesting activities and events.
- Mentoring or training young professionals. Just 1 example of this type of opportunity is Career Village, an online forum that connects students with volunteer subject matter experts in various fields.
This is just a small sample of the many volunteer opportunities for older adults. There are numerous worthwhile local and national charities that welcome senior volunteers. These resources are excellent places to start exploring:
- Create The Good
- Volunteer Match
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1“Volunteering in the United States,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, last accessed May 11, 2023, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/volun.nr0.htmOpens in new window.
2Jerilyn Covert, “10 Amazing Organizations for Senior Volunteers,” SilverSneakers, last accessed May 11, 2023, https://www.silversneakers.com/blog/volunteer-opportunities/Opens in new window.
3Jennifer Lagemann, “11 Meaningful Ways Older Adults Can Volunteer Right Now,” Forbes Health, last accessed May 11, 2023, https://www.forbes.com/health/healthy-aging/volunteer-opportunities-for-older-adults/Opens in new window.
4“11 Meaningful Ways Older Adults Can Volunteer Right Now.”
5“11 Meaningful Ways Older Adults Can Volunteer Right Now.”
6“Helping people, changing lives: 3 health benefits of volunteering,” Mayo Clinic, last accessed May 11, 2023, https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/3-health-benefits-of-volunteeringOpens in new window.
7“Helping people, changing lives: 3 health benefits of volunteering.”
8Eric S. Kim, PhD, et. al., Volunteering and Subsequent Health and Well-being in Older Adults,” National Library of Medicine, last accessed May 11, 2023, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7375895/#:~:text=Observational%20studies%20show%20that%20volunteering,%2C7–9%20and%20mortalityOpens in new window.
9“Helping people, changing lives: 3 health benefits of volunteering.”
10“11 Meaningful Ways Older Adults Can Volunteer Right Now.”
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