What is on your summer bucket list?
- Beach. Check.
- Road trip. Check.
Students who give their time by volunteering at a senior living community are often surprised to find that they get back every bit as much as they give. Many high schools and colleges require students to do volunteer work before they can graduate, and some majors require it be relevant to the students future career. The best advice? Embrace it.
You might expect students who volunteer with seniors would be people in health care majors – nursing, med school, physical therapy or maybe social work. Those students would certainly benefit from working with seniors, but there are opportunities for students with other majors and interests as well.
The first thing you should know is senior living today is not the same as the nursing homes of our parents’ day. Gone (for the most part) are the depressing, dark and foul-smelling places we might still envision. There are a lot of different options out there today – for both residents and volunteers!
Skilled nursing homes, by the nature of their resident’s health, tend to be a bit more sterile. Many rooms are semi-private and often have the appearance of a hospital room. While some of the residents are bedridden, many others are still mobile either by way of walker or wheelchair. Volunteers may be paired with one resident or help out the overall staff with tasks such as wheeling residents down to a meal or chapel.
Residents of memory care facilities range from those that are very mildly confused to others who have advanced cases of dementia. Volunteer opportunities here depend greatly on the level of the person you’d be working with, but since the staff to resident ratio is smaller among this group, volunteers are often welcomed with open arms.
Assisted living communities might offer the best range of volunteer possibilities for students that don’t have a specific health care or social work related emphasis. Residents in assisted living facilities – many of which have the look and feel of a very large home – are just one step away from still being in their own homes. There can be a wide range of ages, but most residents have minor health or memory issues. Some mild confusion, physical limitations or an extensive list of medications may make these seniors unable to remain at home alone. For the most part, however, they can, and do, still get around. They enjoy organized activities, movies and even field trips.
If you decide to volunteer with seniors, what will you be doing? Volunteers often work directly with the residents. There’s a lot to do – reading books or magazines to someone with declining eyesight. Writing letters — or emails – to a senior’s friends or relatives. Teaching a senior – or group of seniors — how to use the computer and how to read and send their own emails. Give a manicure. Accompany seniors and staff on a field trip. Help to feed a resident. Set up a movie. Play the piano for a sing-along. Teach Wii bowling or lead an exercise class. Bring along a well-behaved dog (get permission first). Record a senior’s verbal history of their life (for themselves or their family).
There are many more possibilities when it comes to working with elderly adults. Ask your school for a list of places that work with students or choose a place nearby and call or Google them to learn if they accept volunteers.
Multi-generational relationships are not only helpful to seniors who may need help in their older years, but it’s a great learning experience for both generations. You might just find that you get as much out of the volunteer experience as you give.