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More than half of all people aged 75 or over in the UK live alone, leading to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and even depression. Fortunately, there are many ways that we can reduce the risk of loneliness in older people, including dedicating a small amount of our free time to volunteering to help the elderly. Volunteering can not only be beneficial for older people, but also for the volunteers!
Why Volunteer to Help the Elderly?

Volunteering is an excellent way to do your part for your local community, without needing to enter into a formal, time-consuming agreement. Many of us are, of course, restricted in the hours we’re able to dedicate to helping the elderly, whether it’s because of work commitments or responsibilities to our own families; but volunteering is often very flexible, allowing you to help out whenever you feel you’re able to.

Volunteering could benefit you in ways you never even thought possible. ‘It’s not just an act of charity’, says Dr Rachel Casiday of the University of Wales, Lampeter. ‘In a lot of cases, the volunteer is helped as much as the patient’. Studies have found that volunteers, on average, have a 20 percent lower risk of death than those who do not volunteer, a lower chance of depression, and better overall well being.


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Becoming a Part of the Community

Around 40 percent of over 16’s in the UK volunteer their time in one way or another, and it’s reported that the number of young people opting to volunteer has more than doubled in recent years. Volunteering is a great way to give back to the local community, and to become a more active part of that community, and we’re even seeing major companies like Acorn Mobility getting in on the action.

How You Can Volunteer

There are many different ways you can volunteer to help the elderly, and these can be broken down into two categories: ‘direct volunteering’ and ‘indirect volunteering’. ‘Direct volunteering’ in this instance refers to directly communicating with an elderly person, such as participating in a home visit, for example. ‘Indirect volunteering’, refers to other volunteering opportunities which significantly improve quality of life.

Direct Volunteering

Direct volunteering can be thought of as being like taking on a front-of-house role. You’ll be in direct contact with an elderly person, helping to reduce the loneliness which can often lead to signs of depression. Direct volunteering could include accompanying an elderly person on a shopping trip or a day out, delivering a meal or cooking in their home, or simply popping round for a cup of tea and a chat. 


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Volunteering could also include providing emotional support during hospital visits, sharing knowledge, attending a club or class together, or undertaking physical work in the home, such as putting the bins out on a weekly basis. This sort of volunteering can take place in the elderly person’s home, in your own home, at lunch clubs or social clubs, or even over the telephone.

There’s really no definite, set-in-stone definition of direct volunteering for the elderly, as there are so many different ways that you can help, and the type of help you provide will often largely be dependent upon the needs and interests of the individual. Any sort of useful support that you provide, free of charge, in your spare time, is considered to be a beneficial form of volunteering.

Indirect Volunteering

Indirect volunteering is more like a behind-the-scenes role, enabling you to contribute towards a better quality of life for the elderly without needing to be a direct presence in their daily lives. This sort of volunteering is ideal for those who wish to follow a particular interest, such as retail, for example, or who want to help and do their part but feel uncomfortable around new people.


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A very popular form of indirect volunteering to help the elderly is through dedicating your time to supporting age-related charities. This could involve taking on retail work in a local charity shop, providing secretarial or administrative support for a charity, or organising (or just helping out) at fundraisers or other local events that aim to raise money to provide assistance to the elderly.

There are many other ways you could dedicate your time to helping older people, too. If you hold a clean driving licence, you may be able to sign up as a volunteer driver to transport elderly people to and from their hospital appointments, or you may be able to volunteer at a local care home. Jobs include domestic support, health and safety management, and many other roles.

Who Can Volunteer?

Anyone! Anyone with a passion for assisting others can help improve quality of life for the elderly and reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. Some charities and other organisations that offer a ‘matching service’ for elderly people and volunteers, or who offer local and nationwide opportunities, may impose some limits. For example, volunteers with an organisation may need to be at least 16 or 18 years of age. 


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This doesn’t mean that younger people, such as teenagers, can’t help out and do their bit for their local community. Simply popping to an elderly neighbour’s house and asking if they require any assistance with anything – making the bed, reading their post, dusting, vacuuming, or emptying the bins – can be a great help to those whose health makes certain tasks quite challenging, and often potentially risky or dangerous.

Some volunteer opportunities may come with additional criteria that you will need to meet. If you’re applying for a driver volunteer role, for example, you will in most cases need to present a valid, clean driving licence. You may also need to have a DBS check (formerly a CRB check). This is mostly used if volunteering with children, but may also be necessary if you’re volunteering with vulnerable adults.

When to Volunteer

There’s never a bad time to offer to help the elderly as many older people require support all year round. However, there may be some times of the year when you find there are more opportunities than usual. During holidays such as Easter, which is traditionally a family time, there may be more demand, while charity shops may be looking for seasonal volunteers over the very busy festive period.

Volunteering Concerns

A major concern, particularly for young people, is that due to the rising cost of living, volunteering isn’t a financially responsible option for them. This is understandable, but for those who remain keen to help out, it’s worth contacting some age-related charities and organisations to see if they have an internship programme. An internship could offer a good middle ground between volunteering and employment.


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With a charity internship, you won’t receive a salaried wage, but you may instead be offered a number of benefits, including assistance with daily living costs. During your internship, you’ll be undertaking a range of volunteering tasks, and, perhaps even more importantly, you’ll be gaining valuable experience in the charity sector, potentially paving the way for an enjoyable and meaningful career in the future.

Getting Started

Although the 16-24 age range contains the most volunteers, age is not an issue when it comes to volunteering. In fact, 21 percent of people aged 75 and over volunteer their time at least once per month. So whatever your age, wherever you are in the country, and however you wish to help, here are some great resources and opportunities which can help you get started on your volunteering journey:

The Royal Voluntary Service
Provides both local and nationwide opportunities for direct volunteering with the elderly.

Talking Communities by the Community Network
Offers opportunities for telephone or internet-based communications with the elderly.

Contact the Elderly
Organises a monthly Sunday lunch club for the elderly, hosted by a community of volunteers.

Friends of the Elderly
Lists indirect volunteering opportunities nationwide. Includes volunteer care home recruitment.

Independent Age
Provides opportunities for home visits with the elderly, telephone chats, and event assistance.

This post was contributed by Harold H. Rigby, an expert in the specific issues facing people after retirement.