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How Volunteering with Older Adults Can Improve Your Life

Tuesday March 29, 2016 - Jennifer Prell
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According to “Doing Good is Good for You,” a 2013 health and volunteering study by UnitedHealth Group, 78 percent of adults who volunteer report lower stress levels, and 76 percent report feeling healthier. A Harvard Health study found that those who volunteer regularly even enjoy a longer life, as long as they volunteer with altruistic aims.

These studies cover many types of volunteering, and with so many good causes to support, it can be difficult to choose where to give your time. Volunteering with older adults may not be the first thing that many people think of when searching for an opportunity to give back, but it’s an option more people should consider.

“Older adults have contributed so much to our communities over the course of their lives,” says Ann Brennan, coordinator of volunteer programs at Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services (CMSS). “They have so much to teach us, and isn’t it time we give something back to them?”

Beyond personal health gains, 96 percent of volunteers report that their service to the community adds to their sense of purpose, according to UnitedHealth Group. This is certainly the case for volunteering with older adults, as regular volunteers see the tangible impact their work has on the older adults in their community.

CMSS provides the most extensive network of senior services on Chicago’s north side, and throughout that network, there are many tangible opportunities to give back to older adults. The good news is that no matter the amount of time an individual can commit to volunteering, or the skills they bring to the table, there are opportunities to foster lasting emotional connections with residents.

“Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services and other communities for older adults offer a much wider range of volunteer opportunities than many people realize,” Brennan explains. “We have musicians perform, pet owners bring their dogs to visit, and therapy students assist our therapists and much more. Whatever skill you can offer, it can probably be of use here.”

Those who turn to volunteering with older adults all have personal reasons for getting involved, but consistently report positive feelings about their involvement across programs and commitment levels. At the most basic level, volunteers can sign up to help with occasional events at any one of CMSS’ locations. Volunteers with more time to share can dedicate a portion of every week, becoming deeply involved in a specific program and building closer relationships with individual residents. Both of these types of volunteers are always needed, as are those willing to commit to anything in between.

This month, CMSS is starting a new initiative, for which volunteers and staff will receive special training. CMSS is becoming certified in the Music & MemorySM therapy program for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia that is gaining traction across the country and internationally.

Music & MemorySM taps into the mental connections between music and long-term memory, using personalized playlists to trigger deep-seated memories in individuals with dementia. In turn, this can help the listener focus and connect to those around them. For this program, volunteers will have the opportunity to be trained and certified in Music & MemorySM, to work closely with CMSS staff to implement the program and to make a measurable difference in the lives of residents and their loved ones. Anyone can support this program by sponsoring a playlist for $25 or funding the purchase of an iPod and headphones for $80. All proceeds raised by CMSS’s 2016 Spring Benefit Brunch, which will be held on Saturday, April 30 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 pm, in North Park University’s Hamming Hall, will also go toward the launch of Music & MemorySM at CMSS.

Will you answer the call to serve the needs of older adults in Chicago? Volunteering with older adults is an opportunity unlike any other. If you’re interested in learning more about CMSS and giving back in your community, visit www.cmsschicago.org.

Bill Lowe is the President of Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services, the largest network of senior services on Chicago’s north side.