The holiday season is one of the most common times to pay it forward. But donating time does more than help others, it also benefits the volunteer's physical and mental health.
"If you focus on other people and make new connections, that's really quite powerful,” says Elizabeth Landsverk, founder of ElderConsult, a geriatric medical house-call program based in California. “It can decrease the chance of depression that elders are more at risk for."
Older adults who volunteer for at least 200 hours a year decrease their risk of high blood pressure by 40 percent and find greater psychological well-being, a Carnegie Mellon University study found in 2013.
"The holidays are a time of year that highlights or magnifies your losses. People in their 50's and beyond, all of us have had some loss,” says Gail Snow, who oversees volunteers at Our Heart Speaks, a resource for people newly living with disability or chronic pain. “Many of us don't have our parents around anymore, and the holidays really highlight that. Doing something to help out other people really helps point some of that emotional energy in a positive direction."
For those who don't know where to volunteer, Snow suggests selecting an organization “near and dear” to a lost loved one. There are various national search platforms that help prospective volunteers find options within their community. Among them are:
- AARP puts older adults in contact with opportunities with AARP programs or other organizations seeking volunteers.
- Points of Light provides volunteer opportunities in a comprehensive database that also allows for people to lead volunteer projects of their own.
- Volunteer Match helps match people with causes important to them.