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The Benefits of Volunteering

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Think about the last time you volunteered your time and talents to an important effort or cause. How did it make you feel? With the busy lives we lead, just the thought of volunteering might seem overwhelming, but in reality it could be very beneficial. It's easy to think about the positive impact that volunteers have on others, but we don't often consider how rewarding it can be for a volunteer to reach out and make a difference in someone's life. As we approach the summer solstice, put those many hours of daylight to good use. Here are five good reasons for seniors and caregivers alike to volunteer:

1. Find Meaning and Purpose at Any Age: Sharing what you've learned with others can be a rewarding opportunity to give back. It's also an opportunity not relegated to the young. Between 2009 and 2011, the average national volunteer rate of older adults was 23.9% per year, as compared to baby boomers at 29.2% and young adults at 22.1%. Average older adult volunteer rates for states ranged from 17.4% to 39.3%. For older adults, a study showed that formal volunteering moderated the loss of a sense of purpose for those who had experienced the loss of major role identities, such as wage-earner and parent. Residents, and family members of residents, at Sunrise Senior Living volunteer through ongoing community service projects. At Sunrise, there are many family members who volunteer as 'family buddies' to give advice and encouragement to families of new residents in Reminiscence Memory Care Neighborhoods. They say that they receive satisfaction in knowing they are helping others and that sharing their own personal stories is therapeutic.

2. Experience Improved Health and Well-being: Many people who volunteer say that helping others gives them a good feeling inside, something that researchers call a "helpers high". There seems to be an actual physical sensation that occurs when people help others that makes them experience greater energy and strength, less depression and increased feelings of self-worth, reports Psychology Today. Another survey of a large group of older adults showed that while those who received social support did not experience a marked improvement in health, those who gave support to others had lower mortality rates. That means that caregivers actually benefit the most when they help others.

3. Make New Friends and Improve Your Mind: Volunteering provides an opportunity for seniors and caregivers alike to increase their social engagement as well as their brain power. A study conducted by the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center showed that there was a link between higher levels of social connections and participation in social activities with better cognitive function.

4. Learn New Skills: It's never too late to learn a new skill or develop a new hobby. Volunteering can open the door to new learning opportunities that you may have not previously considered or thought you were capable of doing. For example, I know someone at Sunrise that started as a volunteer who is now a memory care coordinator at a Sunrise community. Volunteering gave her the opportunity to discover just how much she loved working with the senior population and was a springboard to a fulfilling career where she has a positive impact on the quality of life of residents and their families every day.

5. Know That You Can Make a Powerful Difference: Regardless of your age or situation, you can also have a positive influence in someone's life. The simple act of visiting with a resident in a retirement home or dementia care neighborhood, holding their hand or offering a listening ear may seem like a small thing, but is actually quite powerful because that simple act of caring brings them immeasurable comfort, joy and encouragement.

In addition, volunteering not only provides us with the opportunity to get involved in a cause that we are passionate about, but also provides the chance to look beyond our own circumstances and appreciate what others are experiencing. The difference that you'll make in someone else's life will make an even bigger difference in yours.