In preparation for writing this article I had the pleasure and honour of interviewing one of our lovely volunteers who helps out in the Cancer Clinic once a week. She has requested to remain anonymous as she is not one to seek the spotlight - so for the purpose of this story I will call her Billie. This delightful lady is in her early nineties (but says she admits to only 79) and has been volunteering for over 30 years at Penticton Regional Hospital.
Before she retired, she worked as an elementary school teacher in Chilliwack. There were a lot of volunteers in the school where she worked and she realized what a great need they filled, and decided that once she retired, she would pay it back (or pay it forward as the saying goes now!)
Billie says she gets great pleasure and satisfaction from helping others, and loves the feeling of being useful and being needed. She works a half day at the information desk at the hospital, another half day in our Cancer Clinic and another half day in the outpatient clinics. She really believes it benefits her health and helps her to stay active and remain socially involved. In her spare time she plays cards, and does Tai Chi and Yoga. Her favourite pastimes are visiting with friends and eating (which you would never know from her tiny frame!)
Billie’s story speaks to the many benefits of volunteering. Nearly 45% of people admit to feeling lonely and one in ten adults reports having no close friends. A simple solution to this is to volunteer. The advantages of volunteering become evident quite quickly and have long term mental and physical benefits. Having a regular social life results in better brain function and lower risk for depression and anxiety. Volunteering also helps bolster your immune system.
It is well known that helping others makes us feel happier too. Depression, PTSD, low self-esteem and even obsessive-compulsive disorder are all alleviated somewhat by volunteering. Volunteering gives people an increased sense of purpose and a sense of connection to others which decreases symptoms and improves social function. Billie did let me know that it can take a little time for a volunteer to settle into their new role. She emphasized that with a little persistence and focusing outwards, you will start making friends and feeling like part of the team. You really do get out what you put in, she says with a smile.
Long term volunteers tend to have a longer life, less disease and better overall health. One report showed that people who volunteer more than one hundred hours a year live the longest. This translates to only 2 hours a week. Studies from the Journal of Gerontology indicate that social service improves elasticity in the brain. As volunteers age, they may be better able to maintain the connections in their brains that often start to unravel in people suffering from Alzheimers dementia. Thus, any social interaction can help prevent or delay Alzheimers, and volunteering is a great way to do this.
In my role as Lead Physician in the Cancer Clinic, I would like to thank our lovely “Billie” and wish her a happy birthday for last week, and a big thank you to all of our volunteers. Your happy smiles, hard work and compassionate care for our patients are greatly appreciated. We literally could not function as we do, without you!