Volunteering in a Skilled Nursing Facility is a Classic Win-Win

Shot of a volunteer worker with two senior womenhttp://195.154.178.81/DATA/i_collage/pu/shoots/805802.jpg

Many people who volunteer are called to do so because they want to make a positive difference in the world. One of the easiest and most effective ways to do that is by lending your compassion, talent and energy to individuals who live in a skilled nursing facility. This can take the form of calling out numbers during Bingo, reading mail or books to those who are visually impaired, providing musical entertainment, or simply sitting in a room and discovering each other’s life story. Today’s nursing homes are full of people with fascinating histories – war veterans, survivors of the Great Depression or Holocaust, and even those who have had brief brushes with fame. You’ll never know what you’ll discover when you sit down with someone and make a connection. You may even learn something!

Are you a candidate to be a nursing home volunteer?

Almost everyone can be a volunteer in a nursing home. You don’t need to have a great singing voice or other musical talent, you don’t need to have medical training, and you don’t need a great deal of physical strength. In general, though, you do need to love being around older people. The main purpose of volunteers in a nursing home is to engage the residents, and you'll do this best if you're enjoying yourself.

Here are some skills that are always in demand:

  • Do you know how to play bridge or other card games? Playing cards provides residents with a great chance to socialize, have fun and exercise their brains. Nursing homes are always looking for volunteers who are good card players.
  • Do you love arts and crafts? Coming in to show residents how to make a wine cork reindeer, beaded necklace, or origami swan helps stimulate their minds while having fun.
  • Do you like to cook? Baking cookies or other delicious treats is always a hit.
  • Do you have a pet who enjoys making new friends? Animals always bring a smile to people’s faces and provide a wealth of health benefits.
  • Of course, if you do have a special talent, or are part of a group that wants to showcase their abilities, nursing homes always welcome entertainers of all stripes.

There are some volunteer positions that require a little more experience or skills than others do. For instance hospice volunteers usually receive special training to help residents and their families through an end-of-life transition. Some volunteers also help transport residents (in wheelchairs or by supporting them while they walk) to different areas in the home, which may require some strength and training. Some may drive residents to medical appointments, which requires a valid driver’s license. But almost anyone can contribute something to a nursing home resident’s life. There’s no upper age limit on volunteering – see “Aging & Caregiving in the News” in this issue to learn about a study showing that older volunteers receive the greatest benefits from donating their time.

What volunteers receive

Volunteering does more than benefit the residents who receive the services provided. It also enriches the lives of those who offer their time and energy. They form very special relationships with the people they interact with and often, these relationships become some of the most important in their lives.

Volunteering also comes with some amazing health benefits. According to the Corporation for National & Community Service, those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability and lower rates of depression later in life that those who do not volunteer. A study done at Rush University in Chicago showed that people who lack a sense of purpose had a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. A follow-up study showed that people who showed some of the typical brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s had fewer signs of the disease if they felt their life had meaning. One of the best ways to create meaning in one’s life is through volunteering. A study published in American Medical News discovered that people who volunteer lead more happy and healthy lives.

But, you will quickly find that the main reason people volunteer is because they get something out of helping others that they can't get anywhere else: the fulfillment of reaching out and the gratification that comes from touching another person's life. Most volunteers discover that they get more from their volunteer service than the people they’re serving.  

Source: Real Properties in association with IlluminAge Communication Partners; copyright 2017 IlluminAge.