Many of the charities and organisations which provide help to elderly and vulnerable people rely on support from individuals in order to carry out their work. Although some charities receive government funding, many rely solely on financial donations from supporters and volunteers who give up their time to help care for people. In many instances, the person being cared for relies heavily on the support of the organisation in order to carry out daily activities, retain their independence or access vital community resources. It is clear, therefore, that volunteers provide significant support to the people they care for and help to increase their quality of life. What is often overlooked, however, it the beneficial impact that volunteering has on the volunteer as well as the person they are helping.
In addition to providing help to others, volunteering has been shown to help improve the mental, physical and emotional well-being of the volunteer. Due to time restraints and busy lifestyles, many people find themselves unable to act as a volunteer until later in life. Often volunteer groups are comprised of retirees and parents of older children who have time to offer their services to organisations who require their help. People experiencing loneliness or isolation often find that volunteering helps to provide a purpose within their life and increase the self-esteem of the volunteer.
This, in turn, can lead to notable health benefits for volunteers. For example, Wilson and Musick, found that the reduction in isolation can lead to fewer incidences of depression among volunteers. Similarly, the community focus of volunteering enables volunteers to focus on external issues rather than ruminating about personal problems thus reducing stress and anxiety. In addition to this, the nature of volunteering means that volunteers often find their physical health improving as they undertake additional exercise and prevent the physical decline often associated with retirement.
The social aspect of volunteering is key to reducing the sense of isolation which is often experienced by older members of society. In addition to interacting with the people they care for, volunteers are introduced to a whole network of people including other volunteers, organisation staff and leaders as well as members of the community. This sense of belonging and purpose helps volunteers to increase their own network and become more social thus avoiding feelings of isolation.
As well as the positive impact for both the volunteer and their clients, the benefits for charities and organisations should not be overlooked. Older members of society are often an untapped resource for businesses and organisations. Their knowledge and experience makes them hugely valuable to organisations which rely on their help in order to function. In addition to benefiting elderly and vulnerable people and enabling charities and organisations to operate, volunteering is an ideal way for older people to take care of their own physical, mental and emotional health whilst becoming active members of their communities.
Try volunteering at your local charity or care home and see what a difference it can make to you.