Working or volunteering with the aging population can be a great way to boost your career goals or add to your volunteer experiences.
Research shows that intergenerational relationships have a number of benefits. They can:
- Build a stronger sense of community.
- Help foster empathy.
- Increase community ownership among all generations.
- Reduce feelings of loneliness and social isolation.
- Create a better outlook on aging.
- Reduce ageism.
Here are 12 ways for how to volunteer or work with older adults.
1. Senior Center
Visit or call your local senior center to find out if you can work or volunteer there. Senior centers offer resources, activities, and support to aging adults. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved socially with interest groups or retirement hobbies. Ask staff or attendees of the senior center about current offerings that you could assist with or check out the center’s calendar of events.
If nothing resonates with you, ask about other programming efforts and brainstorm some classes or workshops you could teach yourself. They may be open to starting a new group or class, especially if you are willing to lead it.
One area that’s in high demand among aging individuals is technology. Offer to provide tech help for an hour or two once a month.
2. Visit a Local Senior Living Community
Volunteer at a local long-term care facility — this could involve local assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and independent living communities. You could become an activity director or assistant and put on events such as bingo, brainteasers, happy hour, singing, exercise, and more.
You can find paid positions and also opportunities to volunteer leading or assisting with these types of activities. You may want to call bingo once a week or host a card group! Check out which types of organizations are in your area and get in touch with them to see what kind of assistance they need.
3. Check Your Local Library
Your local library may be a place that older adults congregate, take classes, or attend events. Many libraries offer interactive classes, workshops, or groups specifically for older adults.
Librarians may also be willing to develop other programming efforts for the future. They may even offer exercise classes such as gentle yoga or stretching. Reach out to your local library to see what programs they may need help with and ask about the types of programs they would like to hold in the future.
4. Join a Meetup
Meetup groups are great opportunities to socialize with all walks of life and those with particular interests. Search online for aging-specific groups in your area.
Pro tip: Consider search terms like “intergenerational,” “longevity,” “healthy aging,” “geriatrics,” “older adults,” “senior citizens,” or “elderly.” If a group doesn’t exist in your area, look up specific conditions or hobbies that are more common among older adults. There are groups for dementia, caregiving, Parkinson’s, etc. There are also groups for knitting, gentle exercise, walking groups, and more.
5. Check Out Aging Studies Programs
Are there any aging studies programs in your area? Find out which universities or colleges offer classes in gerontology, which is the study of aging. It educates people on the policies, practices, and programs that affect aging individuals.
Since our population is growing much older, jobs in this field are in high demand. You’ll be able to find undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificate programs in gerontology. You may also be able to take classes online.
Besides pursuing a degree in the field, gerontology departments are well-versed in organizations that serve seniors. If you are having trouble finding a niche yourself, reach out to a local aging studies department for more ideas.
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7. Look into Lifelong Learning Programs
Lifelong learning programs are among the many fun things to do in retirement. They can also be a great source of social support and connection. Lifelong learning programs bring people together based on mutual interest. They may also call themselves adult education centers.
They may come in many forms, such as structured in-person classes, special interest group meetings, and brown bag discussions. Some even organize group outings and field trips.
Do some research about the opportunities that exist in your area and start thinking about what kind of brown bag lecture, class, or workshop you would feel comfortable leading. You don’t have to be an expert to teach these, and classes can be as structured or unstructured as you’d like.
8. Volunteer for a Cause
If your time is limited and you are looking for a one-time volunteer opportunity, consider volunteering for a cause or walk in your area. This could be a walk for Alzheimer’s, breast cancer, ALS, etc.
There are many components to these types of events. You could sign people in, manage a tent, or run an information desk. You could even look into joining one of the cause’s committees and assist with anything from sponsorships to volunteer coordination.
9. Join a Facebook Group
Middle-aged and older adults make up the largest percentage of Facebook users. Many Facebook features can work to your benefit as it applies to support groups. Actual groups (both private and public) can be great outlets to connect with other people sharing similar experiences.
Many of these groups’ discussion boards can post a topic or question to the group. You can also respond to other people’s comments or insights. Consider exploring other online social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, or Linkedin as well and join an intergenerational group or start following a local aging organization.
10. Become a Caregiver or Companion
Caregivers are in high demand, especially for older adults. Over 34 million family members in the United States provide care to older adults, according to the AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving. A growing number of home care agencies and home health networks search for caregivers and companions.
Companions generally assist older individuals living in their own homes within the community. They help clients with errands, meals, home chores, and provide socialization. Sometimes people just want a friendly visitor or someone to join them on a short walk!
11. Help Your Neighbors
It’s always nice to check in on your aging neighbors and see if there is anything you can do for them. Maybe you help them with their groceries or volunteer to pick up a prescription.
You could also let them know of any paid types of work you could assist them with, such as mowing the lawn or shoveling the driveway. Many people prefer not to ask for help, but when presented with assistance opportunities, they are more likely to take advantage of them.
12. Tap into Faith-Based Organizations
Many older adults congregate or attend a faith-based organization on a regular basis. You don’t have to belong to a particular church or other faith-based organization to find out how you can be involved with its aging population.
Besides religious services, faith-based organizations also host weekly groups, annual events, and workshops.
Take the Next Step
Start making a list! What goes on your list will depend on whether you want to jump into a paid position or volunteer role. How much time do you have to dedicate to it? Jot down some of your skills you’d be able to leverage among the aging population. Do some research about what kind of local organizations are near you.
Finally, don’t hesitate to reach out to a particular organization. It doesn’t hurt to make a phone call or send an email.
- “The Benefits of Hiring a Companion for an Older Adult: Hiring a companion can give a family caregiver much-needed breaks.” www.nextavenue.org/hiring-companion-older-adult/
- Alzheimer’s Association. Find a Walk Near You. act.alz.org/site/SPageServer/?pagename=walk_homepage
- California State University. “Interesting Facts about Gerontology.” hss.fullerton.edu/agingstudies/docs/gero_fact_sheet_12-07-15.pdf
- “What Can I do with a Doctoral Degree in Gerontology? Expanding Your Options.” www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4055552/
- “Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes.” The Bernard Osher Foundation. www.osherfoundation.org/index.php?olli