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Volunteering and Seniors: So Much to Give and So Much to Gain

June 7, 2022

While retirement is often a much-anticipated life milestone associated with relaxation, freedom to travel, and more time spent with loved ones, many older adults who bid their final farewell to the workplace find themselves unsure how to fill their newfound time with meaningful activities. Whether young or old, volunteerism presents a host of benefits to well-being and offers a balanced approach to aging that is meaningful and satisfying.

Improved Health

Seniors who volunteer have been found to have decreased stress and lower blood pressure than their non-volunteer peers. Additionally, staying active through volunteering has been shown to improve cognitive health. In one study, researchers found that individuals aged 51 and older involved in formal volunteering showed improved working memory and processing over time. The positive physical and mental health benefits from serving others are significant contributors to well-being in older age.

Social Connections

Volunteering is an excellent way to forge and maintain ties with others in the community. With over a quarter of seniors living alone and at risk of social isolation, volunteering is a way to fulfill the human need for social contact while simultaneously lowering the risk of depression, anxiety, and a host of other ailments. Serving others through volunteering gives context to our lives.

Learning New Things

Aside from simply being exciting and fun, learning new things has improved neuroplasticity in the brain – a phenomenon that can help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms even when as many as all other risk factors are otherwise present.

According to neuroscientist Lisa Genova in her TED talk What You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer’s, The Nun Study (2009) revealed that even in a brain that shows all the physical signs of Alzheimer’s disease, the presence of symptoms can be prevented by growing new synapse connections in the brain, which increases one’s “cognitive reserve.” The best way to improve cognitive reserve is not by engaging in activities that only call on you to retrieve the information you already know but by challenging the brain to learn new material — such as taking up a foreign language, reading a book, meeting new people, or by taking a class on a topic you know little about. Volunteering in an area that requires you to learn new skills is a simple way to build cognitive reserves while at the same time reaping the health and social benefits that come with serving alongside others.

Giving Back

At the heart of all volunteering is the simple yet profound feeling of giving back. Service to others is linked to greater life satisfaction and happiness, as those who volunteer are helping others who rely on them. No matter how many hours are spent volunteering or how few, giving one’s time inevitably enhances one’s sense of purpose in life.

Located in the heart of beautiful downtown West Chester, our volunteers are a valued part of our community here at The Hickman. Not only do we welcome many volunteers from the community, but we also have numerous opportunities for our residents to engage in acts of service—such as creating pins to raise money for Ukraine relief efforts, assembling centerpieces and decor for holiday events, collecting donations for food drives, and spending intergenerational time with children from neighboring West Chester Friends School. Contact us today to schedule a tour.