Friday, July 25, 2014

Volunteering in Retirement

In the last two years, I have seen several of my work colleagues enter retirement. Most of them were healthy, active and in good health. The most common question asked of them was what they intended to do next? Well, many began to volunteer. One delivers meals to the elderly; another makes quilts to for hospitalized veterans; and a third traveled to Africa on a medical mission.

The number of volunteers over the age of 65 has steadily increased over the past three decades. In 2008, approximately 23% of this age group engaged in volunteer activities. Retirees today are in good health, living longer and staying active. Many have found volunteering to be the perfect next step. Studies have found that volunteering can help to increase physical function, maintain cognitive function and decrease depressive symptoms of retirees. Many who volunteer report an improved sense of well-being and enhanced life satisfaction.

Senior volunteers are motivated by a desire to help others and create or maintain social relationships, whereas younger volunteers are more likely to volunteer for professional and personal development opportunities. Volunteer organizations, for their part, benefit from the professional expertise, life experience and enthusiasm of these retirees.

But how do you decide which volunteer activity is right for you? The options are endless but can be narrowed down by asking the right questions. What are your passions and interests? Illiteracy, homelessness or the environment? Is there a specific population that interests you? Young children, elderly, or animals? Is there an activity or past-time you have always wanted to do but work and everyday life prevented you from pursuing? Visiting museums, traveling, or gardening. How often and how much time do you want to commit? Weekly, monthly or periodically? Where would you like to volunteer? Local, regional or internationally? When I retire, for instance, I would like to travel to Thailand to work at an elephant sanctuary. The answers to all of these questions will help guide and narrow your search.

If you are still having trouble deciding, there are several organizations that match people with volunteer opportunities. Here is a short list of the several resources:

1) Senior Corps at was created during John F. Kennedy’s presidential term, connects seniors with a variety of service opportunities;

2) Volunteer Match at will determine your volunteer preferences then produce a list of possible organizations that might interest you.

3) AARP at offers a site to assist in choosing volunteer opportunities.

Of course, if there is an organization you already have in mind, feel free contact them directly.

Volunteering can be personally fulfilling and fun. Committing your precious time to others is also a responsibility. The St. Vincent Pallotti Center and Catholic Volunteer Network created a “Questions to Ask Yourself” pamphlet which will help guide you in choosing the perfect volunteer opportunity click here to access the questionnaire.

Deciding to volunteer can be rewarding and, improve health and well-being. It requires some research and commitment to determine the option that is right for you but the best advice I can offer about volunteering is to enjoy yourself!

Barron, J. S., Tan, E. J., Yu, Q., Song, M., McGill, S., & Fried, L. P. (2009). Potential for intensive volunteering to promote health of older adults in fair health. The Journal of Urban Health, 86(4), 641-653. doi: 10.007/s11524-009-9353-8

Greenfield, E.A., Marks, N. F. (2004). Formal volunteering as a protective factor for older adults' psychological well-being. The Journals of Gerontology, 59(5), 258-264. Retrieved from

Konrath, S., Fuhrel-Forbis, A., Lou, A., Brown, S. (2012). Motivs for volunteering are associated with mortality risk in older adults. Health Psychology, 31(1), 97-96. doi: 10.1037/a0025226

Martinson, M., Minkler, M. (2006). Civic engagement and older adults: A critical perspective. The Gerontologist, 46(3), 318-324. doi:10.1093/geront/46.3.318

Tang, F., Choi, E., Morrow-Howell, N. (2010). Organizational support and volunteering benefits for older adults. The Gerontologist, 50(5), 603-612. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnq020

Author: Susan Polka RN, BSN, CCRN, is a registered nurse with over twenty years experience in health care. She has worked in long term care, community health, and acute care settings. She currently works as a clinical educator and assistant director of an inpatient nursing unit.

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