What Seniors Get from Giving Back

By Bernie Wong | July 22, 2010 | 6 comments

Research shows how older volunteers can get the most out of their service.

Think volunteering’s just a nice thing you do for others? Think again. A growing body of research has pointed to the social, emotional, and even physical health benefits of volunteering.

Now a recent study, published in the journal The Gerontologist, zeroes in on the particular benefits volunteering offers older adults, and reveals how organizations can help their older volunteers best reap those rewards.

The study, led by University of Pittsburgh researcher Fengyan Tang, surveyed more than 200 volunteers ages 50 or older. The volunteers were from varied socioeconomic backgrounds and had contributed an average of six hours a week to nonprofit or government programs with services ranging from legal consultation to meal preparation to helping with computer skills.

Tang and her colleagues didn’t only look at how the volunteers were helping others; they also evaluated the kind of support volunteers received from the organizations for which they were volunteering. They asked the volunteers the extent to which they were given a choice of volunteer activities, whether they had received adequate training, and whether they received ongoing support.

The researchers then followed up with the volunteers a year later, asking participants about their physical and mental health as well as the “socioemotional benefits” they thought they’d gotten out of volunteering, including their self-esteem, personal growth, and social activity. 

Tang and her colleagues found that the volunteers reported significant improvements in their mental health, along with other socioemotional benefits ranging from a greater feeling of productivity to increased social activity to an overall sense that their life had improved.

Importantly, the researchers found that volunteers were far more likely to enjoy these benefits when the volunteer organization gave them adequate training, ongoing support, and greater flexibility in choosing activities and schedules. What’s more, the researchers found that volunteers of low socioeconomic status reported more socioemotional benefits than did volunteers of higher socioeconomic status.

Tang and her colleagues argue that, on a society-wide level, their study highlights the importance of offering emotionally meaningful volunteer opportunities for older adults, and for giving these volunteers adequate support and freedom. In this way, older adults are able to find purpose, satisfaction, and good health later in life at the same time that they give back to society.

“With the support from host organizations,” they write, “older volunteers are able to continue their efforts and contributions and derive satisfaction and emotional well-being from their volunteer experience.”

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About The Author

Bernie Wong is a Greater Good editorial assistant.

  

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This is quite an interesting article and it’s a perfect
example of how important social interactions are
on our health. I believe when one feels a sense of
satisfaction in helping others, it creates an aura of
happiness and self worth, regardless of age.

It is crucial for the elderly to have a sense of worth
and well-being in their community. I am a firm
believer in relationship between health and
happiness. I think all seniors should have an
interaction with volunteering in their communities. 

-Blake Kivisto from Kivisto Overland Park
Chiropractic

Blake Kivisto Chiropractic | 7:07 pm, July 25, 2010 | Link

 

a href=“http://sheffieldchiropractor.com”>Sheffield
Chiropractor</A>

abdi | 7:06 am, February 15, 2011 | Link

 

very interristing post..

asalah | 10:11 pm, September 24, 2011 | Link

 

I found this excerpt particularly interesting:“Tang and her colleagues argue that, on a society-wide level, their study highlights the importance of offering emotionally meaningful volunteer opportunities for older adults, and for giving these volunteers adequate support and freedom. In this way, older adults are able to find purpose, satisfaction, and good health later in life at the same time that they give back to society.” Very interesting indeed…

Pictures of Jesus | 2:16 pm, January 4, 2012 | Link

 

This was a good read, very interesting…

Easytether | 2:23 pm, January 4, 2012 | Link

 

Volunteering is good for the soul, there can be no doubt about that. But there is one part of the article I’m curious about: “What’s more, the researchers found that volunteers of low socioeconomic status reported more socioemotional benefits than did volunteers of higher socioeconomic status.”
I wonder how exactly the degree of socioemotional benefits is measured in this case and, if that’s in fact true, why that may be the case.

Seniors home | 2:14 pm, May 2, 2012 | Link

 
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