In recognition of Older Americans Month in May, Nancy Olson, RSVP team lead, shares one of the fascinating benefits that comes from connecting with a senior citizen.
Growing older can be amazing. Kids grow up; perhaps grandchildren also. With work life in the rear-view mirror, we control our schedules and choose what activities interest us in a way not possible in younger years. Freedom from all that responsibility of raising families or pressures of a career can seem like a joyous thing, and opportunities for travel or enjoying life abound.
But not for everyone …
Sometimes growing older comes with illness or disability. Kids might move away; grandchildren also. The work life that often felt oppressive gave structure to our lives and provided regular social interaction, both now gone. Maybe the neighborhood changes—good friends and neighbors relocate. And suppose the nest egg isn’t as large as hoped, limiting choices and undermining a sense of security. What starts as uneasiness leads to fear. Relentless change often brings loneliness. Loneliness and feelings of isolation, it turns out, can be mentally, emotionally, and physically destructive.
Now for the good news ...
But now there’s good news and even better news!
The good news is effects of loneliness can be mitigated through companionship. This may seem way too simple and obvious, yet dozens of research studies confirm this. Programs like RSVP and the Senior Companion Program, both sponsored by Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, focus on finding volunteers who are at least 55 to provide a variety of companion-type activities: friendly visiting, phone calls, reading books together, writing letters, running errands, accompanying to medical appointments, sharing stories, or just spending time in one another’s company.
Study after study reveals that the social interaction provided by a volunteer companion, even in small increments, makes a measurable difference in the lives of those who are isolated and lonely. That’s good news, and when RSVP and the Senior Companion Program ask for volunteers to help us, we know without doubt that someone’s life will become better when at least one volunteer companion enters his or her world.
... and the even better news!
The federal agency that supports RSVP and the Senior Companion Program nationwide recently completed a multi-year study that shows, overwhelmingly, the VOLUNTEERS also benefit from social interactions that come with serving as companions.
Said another way, volunteers who give of themselves and become companions to others, not only make a tremendous difference in that person’s life, they also overcame their own loneliness (and the mental, emotional, physical effects) through their service. Even when the volunteer didn’t initially describe himself or herself as lonely, the study showed an improvement over time as the companion relationship endured. It’s the very definition of a win-win scenario. Read up on the study results here: https://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/senior-corps/senior-corps-and-health-benefits
Would you like to make a difference in the lives of others?
Can you help someone by spending time, connecting person to person? Would you like to
make your own life better? Please contact us. You can do both through volunteer service …