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Two elderly people volunteering at a food bank.

Get more later in life by giving back

Find purpose, hope, and happiness through volunteerism

We’ve all heard that regardless of where we are in life, it’s important for us to stay active, socialize regularly and find a sense of purpose to help keep our brains sharp and contribute to better long-term mental health. But as we age and experience life changes that reduce our once routine opportunities to socialize, it can become harder to feel a sense of joy or purpose.

Volunteering is a valuable way to reclaim some of those feelings and sense of community that seemed to come easier earlier in life. For older adults with time on their hands and energy and wisdom to share, volunteering offers an enriching opportunity to help others. As we recognize National Volunteer Month in April, now is an especially apt time to explore all the benefits that volunteering can offer as we age.

Studies prove the positive impact of volunteering later in life
Volunteering is not just for the young – there are numerous positive impacts that giving back and engaging with the community have on older adults’ lives. In 2020, a study of 12,000+ adults over 50 found that those who volunteered more than 100 hours each year had reduced risk of mortality and physical limitations, higher physical activity, and better psychosocial outcomes.

As Dr. Emiliana Simon-Thomas, PhD, Science Director at the UC Berkeley-based Greater Good Science Center, explains, this is far from an unusual result.

“We’ve seen that when people behave in generous ways, when they do something that uplifts the welfare of another person, the nervous system responds with what we call the ‘warm glow’ response. It’s the feeling of pleasure or internal affirmation that you’ve done something worthwhile and see that something you’ve done matters in the world.”

She cites another study where researchers examined data from nearly 70,000 participants regarding their volunteering habits and their mental health over an 18-year period. They found that those who volunteered were more satisfied with their lives and rated their overall health as better—and those benefits grew the more they volunteered. Additionally, they learned that people who started to volunteer became happier over time.

“Older adult life can be isolating or lonely, and you can feel like you’re ostracized from the energy of regular society,” says Dr. Simon-Thomas. “So when you’re out in the world and interacting with others, you’re engaging in something that is valuable to you. Then you’re decreasing those other challenges that come with older adulthood.”

Belmont Village offers a variety of events available to the public. To learn more, please contact one of our family advisors.


Older adults can experience numerous health benefits as a result of volunteering
Beyond these findings, there are many other positive outcomes that older adults commonly report after they begin volunteering. The Mayo Clinic uncovered other significant health benefits that include:

  • Improved physical and mental health: Volunteers report better physical health than non-volunteers, and research has also shown that volunteering leads to lower rates of depression and anxiety, especially for people 65 and older. In addition, people who volunteer have lower mortality rates than those who do not, even when controlling for age, gender and physical health.

  • Increased sense of purpose and opportunities to share skills: Volunteering gives us a sense of purpose, especially when volunteers’ time and talent is spent in areas they find meaningful.

    Lillian Dallas, a resident at Belmont Village’s Los Gatos community, volunteers with a group of residents known as the “Belmont Angels.” The group, established to empower our residents and create a sense of purpose through meaningful outreach, teams with local groups for special projects. Particularly dear to Lillian is the partnership to create care packages for women in shelters with We and Our Neighbors, a non-profit social club focused on assisting the local community. “There’s six or seven of us who work together to help abused women and children by making up care packages with toothpaste, lotion, toothbrushes, tissues – different things they may need,” she says. “It just gives you a good feeling. We’re so much more well-rounded and feel like we’re contributing in some way every day.”

  • Greater social relationships: Volunteering increases social interaction and helps build a support system based on common interests. In many cases, volunteers have diverse backgrounds, which helps expand their social network and allows them to practice social skills with others. As an added bonus, this level of stimulation can prevent cognitive decline, as studies have found that older adults who volunteer have higher scores for executive function and memory.

Volunteer opportunities can vary, but all deliver positive impacts
There are many volunteer opportunities out there, and the good news is that older adults can see these positive effects, regardless of what type of volunteering they pursue and where their skills and abilities lie. For older adults who need help connecting with groups and organizations, and who may need some additional support for themselves or a loved one, senior living communities can be a valuable resource.

“We incorporate volunteering and service projects into our enrichment programs at every level – it’s important to our residents and we see the benefits firsthand,” said Joyce Mahoney, Vice President of Activity & Memory Programming for Belmont Village Senior Living. “From our most active, independent residents, to those who are experiencing physical and cognitive changes, there is a way to participate that is personally fulfilling, and our teams find and create those opportunities with them.”

For instance, Belmont Village’s Lincoln Park community in Chicago has established deep relationships with several area charities focused on feeding the homeless, collecting school supplies for low-income children, and hosting pet adoption events. Residents have a variety of opportunities to contribute their time, skills and energy to give back.

The Belmont Angels continue to expand their network of partnerships as well, teaming with a local food pantry to assemble hygiene packs for the homeless and with the Los Gatos Police Department to make comfort pillows and teddy bears for children affected by domestic violence. Residents like Lillian are thrilled to have more outlets for the energy and support they love to provide.

“I was a member of the Red Hat Society for years, and I want to fulfill that legacy of having fun, being alert, meeting people, and doing good for as long as I possibly can,” says Lillian.

“The important thing is just to get out of a rut and get involved,” says Dr. Simon-Thomas. “Figure out which volunteer opportunities tap into your unique skills, characteristics, and preferences, and then take that next step to get started.”

Belmont Village offers a variety of events available to the public. To learn more, please contact one of our family advisors or explore additional volunteer opportunities in your area.

Belmont Village offers a variety of events available to the public. To learn more, please contact one of our family advisors.