Older Adults With Limitations Benefit from Volunteering

It seems counterintuitive, but research shows that volunteering can provide health benefits…even for older adults who have physical limitations that make daily activities difficult.

“As functional limitations increase, the risk of dying increases, but not among those who volunteered,” said Morris Okun, an Arizona State University professor of psychology [and lead author of the study]. “By helping other people, you are actually helping yourself.”

The study, reported in article in ScienceDaily, used data from over 900 non-institutionalized adults age 65 and older. Those with functional limitations–who have difficulty performing physical tasks such as carrying groceries or driving a car–benefitted from volunteering: They had improvements in terms of longevity. Statistically, they lived longer than people with functional limitations who did not volunteer…and they had greater benefits compared with healthy people who also volunteered. In other words: The “sicker” people benefitted most from volunteering.

The researchers don’t know why this is true, but they have a theory:

“People who have the beginning of a set of functional limitations are the kinds of people who are experiencing some diminished sense of usefulness. We know that a sense of usefulness is a predictor of mortality in older people,” Okun explained.

The trick is to find a way to volunteer that doesn’t require extensive physical activity, but there are lots of opportunities. Volunteers can make phone calls, lick envelopes, give attention to animals in a shelter, read to children or those with sight problems, become a pen pal to children with learning disabilities, or  anything that uses talents (and interests) unaffected by physical limitations.

To read a copy of the ScienceDaily article, click here:  Volunteering Can Benefit Those with Functional Limitations

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