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| Volunteers age 55 and over serve hundreds of thousands of people in their communities through Senior Corps programs. Now new research shows that the volunteers themselves are enjoying health benefits after just one year of service, including decreases in anxiety and depression, loneliness and social isolation. They also report enhanced physical capacity and higher life satisfaction.
Senior Corps is led by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a federal agency for service, volunteering and civic engagement. To look at the health benefits of volunteering for older adults, CNCS launched two longitudinal studies in 2015 that assess the impact of service on their Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion programs. Researchers found:
- Almost two-thirds of Senior Corps volunteers reported a decrease in feelings of isolation, and 67 percent of those who first reported they “often” lack companionship stated that they had improved social connections.
- Seventy percent of volunteers who initially reported five or more symptoms of depression reported fewer symptoms at the end of the first year.
- Sixty-three percent of volunteers who initially indicated three or four symptoms of depression reported fewer symptoms after one year.
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"These preliminary findings support a larger body of research that highlights the positive impact of volunteering, particularly for older adults, and are a valuable addition to the conversation on healthy aging," CNCS spokesperson Samantha Jo Warfield tells AARP. "Senior Corps volunteers are deeply dedicated to the communities they serve, spending 15-40 hours a week committed to a single organization, often for several years, developing intensive and ongoing relationships with those they serve."
Senior Corps engages more than 245,000 older adults annually in service through its Foster Grandparent, RSVP and Senior Companion programs. Foster Grandparents become one-on-one tutors and mentors to 267,000 young people with special needs every year. RSVP volunteers help with activities such as neighborhood watch programs, home renovations, English lessons for immigrants and victim assistance during natural disasters. Senior Companion volunteers help 840,000 homebound seniors and other adults maintain independence, keeping aging adults in their own homes by providing respite care and independent living services.
CNCS has numerous stories about volunteers whose lives were improved by the program, Warfield says, including 81-year-old Ramona Griego, who has volunteered with the Santa Fe Senior Companion program in New Mexico for 15 years. Shortly after her husband died, Ramona's diabetes got worse, and she became depressed. She found the Senior Companion program after visiting a senior center and decided to join.