Regardless of how old you are, you undoubtedly have benefited from the support and encouragement of older Americans throughout your life. Yet for too many older Americans, the sad reality is that aging can result in greater feelings of isolation. An AARP survey from several years ago, for example, found more than one-third of respondents age 45 and older identified as lonely.
Perhaps one of the greatest gifts volunteers can share with older Americans is the gift of time itself. Whether you spend time with an aging relative or at a local retirement community reading to residents, playing board games or simply visiting, your time will be extremely well spent.
Volunteers can also make themselves useful by doing tasks that older Americans aren’t able to do on a regular basis. This can include tasks such as washing dishes, folding laundry, taking out the trash or shoveling snow. You might commit to being at an older resident’s home once or even twice per week for an hour or two to provide help. Remember: It’s not necessarily about the quantity of time you invest but rather about the quality of the personal connection and the helpful work you provide during the visit.
You might also consider whether the older Americans you volunteer with would be willing to share their life story with you. Be sure to ask permission before taking notes or recording any audio or video. Assuming you receive permission, you might be amazed at the stories you learn, and they and their family members will cherish the memories you capture for future generations.
Whatever steps you take to volunteer in 2017, consider opportunities to serve older Americans. We owe preceding generations a debt of gratitude for teaching us about the world and giving us opportunities we wouldn’t have had otherwise.