Volunteering can change an elderly person's life

When Federal Minister for Ageing, Ken Wyatt, told the National Press Club in October last year that up to 40 per cent of people in aged care homes never get visitors, it made headlines around the country.

As members of a community, it’s important to remember that we can help to reduce that statistic through volunteering our time and friendship.

It is easy to assume that neglect by family members is the main reason for the social isolation of elderly people at home or in residential care, but there are many contributing factors.

Geographical distance from friends or relatives, frailty and limited mobility, loss of hearing or other faculties and technological illiteracy can all make older people feel socially isolated and lonely.

For seniors who are from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, this problem may be compounded by removal from their traditional community, culture or heritage, and the fact that English is not their first language.

A simple way to reconnect with these members of the community is through volunteering the gift of your time.

Evidence shows that the companionship of volunteers makes a dramatic difference to the lives of isolated people, young and old.

As a volunteer, you can help make an elderly person's day better by chatting and reminiscing with them, playing cards or games, reading a book or newspaper aloud, watching TV, listening to music or simply taking a walk together.

The Federal Government’s Community Visitors Scheme (CVS) is a program designed to enrich the quality of life of seniors who are receiving care in either an aged care residence or at home.

Volunteers are recruited, trained and supported to visit older people who are socially or culturally isolated.

Outside the CVS program, volunteering can also be arranged directly with individual aged care providers.

IRT Foundation’s in-house co-ordinator allocates community volunteers to provide transport, assist with morning and afternoon tea, host community barbeques, play games and sport, dance or engage in spiritual and cultural activities with seniors.

For high school students who need to notch up community service time in order to graduate, volunteering at a local aged care community during school hours once a week has benefits for both parties – fulfilling academic requirements while making someone else’s life better.

There are many social benefits for volunteers of all ages, in fact.

When you do voluntary work you meet new people with similar interests, build healthy relationships and strengthen your ties to the local community, while practising and developing your social skills. Because volunteering keeps you in regular contact with others, it can also help you develop a solid support base.

So if you have an hour or two free to visit an elderly person once a week or fortnight, have patience and understanding and love to chat and reminisce, you can put those skills to good use and make friends with a senior by volunteering at your local aged care home.   No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

The difference you could make by offering the gift of your company to an elderly person could change their lives.

To volunteer at an IRT care centre contact Natalie Shipp, Volunteer Coordinator: nshipp@irt.org.au​ 

Jason Malone is IRT Care CEO.