There are 66 million people in the UK, with 18.2% of us aged 65 and over1, and yet despite our population increasing, loneliness is still a major public health concern.2 Linked to social isolation, depression and feelings of inadequacy, loneliness also negatively affects the normal functioning of our hearts and brains3. It also increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%. This is due to loneliness having a similar affect to obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The elderly are particularly at risk, with an estimated 1.2 million chronically lonely people in the UK alone.4
Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, volunteering has many surprising health benefits that not only improve the health of the person being supported, but the health of the volunteer too. And here’s why:
You get what you give
Volunteering has been a powerful motivator for more than 2000 years. Science consistently discovers new benefits, one of which is: you get what you give. By volunteering your time, you feel like you have more time; by offering your experience, you build more experience, and by giving your love, you feel more love5. This is because when you give your time to something meaningful, you feel less like you’re throwing your precious hours away. When you’re active, your brain and heart health naturally improve. When you share knowledge, others will return the favour. And when you volunteer, you build empathy and strengthen social bonds, which is essential for increasing feelings of love.
The generation gap can be bridged
The generations that separate the young and elderly are increasing the longer we live. The world can look very different through the eyes of a generation, but by bringing together the wisdom of the elderly and the perspective of the young, we create a unique learning opportunity. Being able to see the world through someone else’s eyes increases empathy, teaches us a new way of thinking, and stops us becoming held back by our own dogma. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but the dog in question likely lacked incentive, and who’s to say the old dog didn’t have its own tricks up its sleeve?
Senior volunteers are an untapped resource
The elderly are the largest untapped resource when it comes to volunteering.6 According to the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing, the value of older people in the UK could be worth more than £15bn by 20207. By creating more creative ways of recruitment and training, the strain created by dwindling resources could be eased, which would hugely benefit the third sector. Not only that, it would improve the lives of the seniors who choose to volunteer too, as it has a plethora of benefits that include:
- Increased levels of fitness, which helps stave off disease.
- Decreased risk of developing high blood pressure, which can lead to a stroke, heart attack and/or other heart conditions.
- Produces the ‘happiness effect.’
- Delays or even reverses declining brain function8.
- Increases the likelihood of living longer.
- Reduces stress, so long as the volunteering fits in well with the individual’s schedule.
- Provides a sense of purpose, motivation and feeling of accomplishment.
- Creates powerful connections and bonds with others, which expand social networks and decrease loneliness.
You develop new skills
No matter where you are in life, it’s never too late to learn a new skill. Improving soft skills such as communication, time management, confidence and team work are all achieved through volunteering, no matter who you are. But if you’re looking to impress potential employers, then leadership and problem-solving skills can all be gained through taking the initiative with your time and level of support, such as being creative when it comes to providing entertainment for your senior, or solving issues with transportation or medical needs. Thinking outside the box and being resourceful is one of the top desired traits when employers are considering who to hire9.
Volunteering can eradicate loneliness
With so many studies supporting the evidence that volunteering benefits everyone involved, including the surrounding communities, it’s no wonder that an average 15.2 million people volunteer once a month in the UK10. That equates to just 23% of us, proving that there is still more we can do. So, whether it’s those of us who choose to volunteer with the elderly, or the elderly themselves who choose to reap the benefits of volunteering, one thing is for sure:
Life doesn’t have to end in loneliness.
- ONS people and population report. Article available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/articles/overviewoftheukpopulation/november2018
- The Foundation of Art & Healing. The UnLonely Project. Article available at: https://artandhealing.org/older-adults-loneliness-fact-sheet/
- What You Should Know About Loneliness. Article available at: https://www.verywellmind.com/loneliness-causes-effects-and-treatments-2795749
- The Facts on Loneliness. Article available at: https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/the-facts-on-loneliness/
- Next Avenue. Surprising benefits of volunteering. Source article: https://www.nextavenue.org/5-surprising-benefits-volunteering/
- gov. Elderly volunteers: assessing their potential as an untapped resource. Source article: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10186804
- Third Sector. Volunteering and Older People. Source article: https://www.thirdsector.co.uk/volunteering-older-people-will-worth-15bn-2020/volunteering/article/1288192
- Volunteering positively benefits seniors. Article available at: https://www.medicarefaq.com/blog/volunteering-positively-benefits-seniors/?eiid=1262417594.1557586958
- Youth Employment UK. What Is Initiative and Why Is It Important? Source Article: https://www.youthemployment.org.uk/yp-article/what-is-initiative-and-why-is-it-important/
- org. How many people regularly volunteer? Article available at: https://data.ncvo.org.uk/a/almanac14/how-many-people-regularly-volunteer-in-the-uk-3/