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Giving of your time is time well spent

Volunteers build community
By Dr. Rhonda Collins
Revera was the first company in the Canadian senior living sector to appoint a Chief Medical Officer. In her blog series, Dr. Rhonda Collins offers helpful advice for seniors to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.

April is National Volunteer Month, which gives me the opportunity to not only thank Canada’s many volunteers, but also to reflect on the benefits for those who volunteer, including seniors. There are 161,000 non-profit and charitable organizations in Canada and more than half of these rely solely on volunteers. Additionally, Canadians who are 65 or older volunteer more hours than any other age group with an average of 218 hours annually.

At Revera, many of our residents are active volunteers, and many interact with volunteers who visit our residences and homes. I want to recognize the wonderful individuals who volunteer with us—sharing one’s time and expertise truly makes a difference to the quality of life of our residents.
“Volunteers enrich our communities and the lives of the people they are supporting.”
What I notice about people who volunteer in our residences and homes, particularly our residents who volunteer, is that they benefit from having a purpose, and from remaining engaged with their community.

Volunteering provides the opportunity to make new friends, which is important in combating isolation and depression—a common issue among older adults. A study by the American Association of Retired Persons surveyed 3,000 people and found that one in three adults over the age of 45 was lonely. Those most likely to report themselves as lonely had small social networks or described themselves as physically isolated. Maintaining meaningful relationships is important to our mental and physical health, and volunteering helps build a support system that is based on common interests.

Volunteering also promotes physical activity, which is important for many reasons. Regular physical activity helps to maintain strength and mobility. It also helps reduce risk of falls, which can have negative consequences like hip fractures. The more active we are, the more active we stay – another positive effect on our physical and mental health.

One study even suggests that volunteering may help you live longer. According to a recent study published in Psychology and Aging, which followed 1,164 adults over the age of 50 who volunteered on a regular basis, those who volunteered 200 hours per year were 40 per cent less likely to develop high blood pressure compared to those who did not volunteer. The Longitudinal Study of Aging studied more than 10,000 adults in England over a period of almost 11 years and found that able-bodied volunteers had a reduced probability of death from all causes.

Finally, volunteering may help lower your risk of developing dementia. A five-year study led by a University of Calgary professor tracked 1,001 people in three groups. The first regularly volunteered for at least one hour a week. The second group were sporadic volunteers. The third group did not volunteer at all. Each group received questionnaires and physician monitoring over the five-year period. Those who volunteered regularly were 2.44 times less likely to develop dementia than those who did not volunteer at all. This is likely related to the other benefits: regular physical activity, making meaningful connections, learning new things, and finding purpose. These have all been demonstrated to reduce risk of cognitive impairment.

My sincere thanks to all the wonderful individuals who volunteer at Revera. If volunteering at Revera is something you are considering, you can learn how to find a role that interests you here. Please reach out to us! You will make a world of difference for your community, and yourself.
Rhonda Collins
By Dr. Rhonda Collins
Dr. Rhonda Collins brings passion and expertise in memory care, dementia, falls prevention and clinical quality improvement to the role of Revera’s Chief Medical Officer. Dr. Collins is a family physician with a certificate of added competence in Care of the Elderly from the College of Family Physicians of Canada.