This is a guest blog from my colleague Dr Eddy Hogg
Research by the International Longevity Centre and the charity Independent Age demonstrates the growing problem of loneliness in older age, particularly for men (report – http://www.ilcuk.org.uk/index.php/publications/publication_details/isolation_the_emerging_crisis_for_older_men). My own research, undertaken in collaboration with Age UK, shows that volunteering can be a really powerful way of overcoming this loneliness and developing the social networks that help sustain a happy and healthy older age.
As we increasingly live longer and as divorce rates continue to rise, an increasing number of older men are living alone. While retirement, divorce and widowhood can all be contributing factors to loneliness, they can also be triggers to engage in volunteering, either for the first time or as continuation of previous engagement.
Volunteering is inherently a social activity, generally undertaken alongside others in a spirit of camaraderie and a desire to do something worthwhile. While what volunteering consists of differs enormously from role to role, these social and self-esteem benefits occur whether an older volunteer is a school reading buddy or plants trees for a wildlife organisation.
Where older people volunteer in support of other older people, the benefits are doubled – not only is the recipient of the support alleviated of loneliness and other issues they may have, but also the volunteer has a purpose and the beginnings of a social network. As a result, charities across Britain are increasingly looking to ways whereby they can connect older people in ‘buddy’ schemes which encourage mutual help and support.
In the debate about loneliness and support in older age, volunteering should be placed centre stage.