Science Shows Giving Back to the Community Improves Senior Health

Science Shows Giving Back to the Community Improves Senior Health

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Deupree House Meals on Wheels volunteers get out in the community and give back.

It's becoming more and more apparent to senior healthcare providers that regular socialization and the desire to feel needed is an important component of wellness as we age.

The science is sound— some studies are now finding that social isolation is probably just as bad for a person's overall health as other chronic, preventable conditions such as cigarette addiction, hypertension or obesity.

Nearly 10% of American seniors report experiencing feelings of depression.

The CDC reports that nearly 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 65 suffer from mood disorder symptoms, and depression can be a serious health risk for seniors—especially for a senior living alone.

Though depression is treatable, it is often under-recognized in elderly people and is known to be associated with increasing recovery times, or even poorer outcomes, for major medical illnesses like stroke, cancer and heart disease.

Volunteerism may help prevent mood disorders.

A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that mortality increased up to 30% in seniors who do not, are not able to, offer tangible assistance to others.

The researchers concluded that there was a real benefit derived from feel needed —contributing to the well-being of others improves self-perception and how an individual is seen in the eyes of others, making those who give assistance more likely to receive help in return.

In essence, having a give-and-take relationship with family and community seems to be an important aspect of senior health and mental wellness.

With that in mind, it follows that volunteering with community organizations may provide seniors a much needed boost in well being. Having an outlet to channel energy, to provide positive feedback, and a sense of accomplishment is probably just as important for healthy senior living as a good diet and exercise.

It has long been known that sitting alone at home is bad for you. Get out and about!

Social isolation can present an increased risk for real illness; Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other dementia-type disorders are more common among older people who do not socialize much. The risk of serious injury — or even death — due to fall, heart attack, or stroke is increased for those who shut themselves away, too. So why not try getting involved?

Volunteerism starts with you. Figure out where your skills and interests lie, then volunteer with an organization that can use your particular talents and inclinations.

  • Did you work as a nurse for 25 years? Volunteer with the Red Cross or your city's public health department.
  • Animal lover? No-kill animal shelters and rescues are always looking for help.

If you don't drive anymore, check out the transportation services available to Cincinnati seniors and see if there are ways to get to and from your volunteer opportunities, or maybe it’s time to make that move into senior living.

Many retirement communities provide free transportation to residents, and you'll have the opportunity to socialize at home with other residents.

Residents of Cincinnati retirement communities are creating their own volunteer opportunities.

At the Deupree House in Cincinnati's Hyde Park neighborhood, residents are giving back to their neighbors and to the community at large— and they're seeing great benefits.

Some residents volunteer with Episcopal Retirement Homes' Council for Lifelong Engagement, a program which pairs older adult speakers with classrooms at various Cincinnati schools. These residents then educate local students about topics relevant to their life experiences or former careers.

Deupree House residents are helping each other, too.

Every week, residents teach college-like course in technology or other areas of interest and expertise to their neighbors in order to help improve their fellow community members' ability to connect with, and maintain strong ties to, the world around them.

If you are a senior living alone and looking to get involved in a community, there’s no time like the present. The mental wellness benefits of socialization are clear— it just takes a little willpower to get out and contribute as much as you can!

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Bryan Reynolds
November 27, 2013
Bryan Reynolds is the Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS). Bryan is responsible for developing and implementing ERS' digital marketing strategy, and overseeing the website, social media outlets, audio and video content and online advertising. After originally attending The Ohio State University, he graduated from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, where he earned a Bachelor of fine arts focused on electronic media. Bryan loves to share his passion for technology by assisting older adults with their computer and mobile devices. He has taught several classes within ERS communities as well as at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute run by the University of Cincinnati. He also participates on the Technology Team at ERS to help provide direction. Bryan and his wife Krista currently reside in Lebanon, Ohio with their 5 children.

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