Benefits of formal voluntary work among older people. A review

Gerontology Research Centre, Dept. of Health Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, PO Box 35 (Viveca), FIN-40014, Jyväskylä, Finland.
Aging clinical and experimental research (Impact Factor: 1.22). 06/2011; 23(3):162-9. DOI: 10.3275/7200
Source: PubMed


A narrative review of quantitative population-based longitudinal studies was conducted to examine the association of formal voluntary work and personal well-being among older people doing the voluntary work and those being served.
To be included, the study had to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, written in English and conducted in Western countries, participants were at least 60 years of age, the study employed a longitudinal or experimental design, the methodology and outcomes were explicitly described, and voluntary work quantified as visits or hours within a certain time frame.
Sixteen studies out of 2897 met the inclusion criteria for the review reporting on benefits of volunteering for those doing the voluntary work. Outcomes were collapsed into three categories of personal well-being: physical health, mental health, and psychosocial resources. All included studies came from the United States and showed that volunteering in old age predicted better self-rated health, functioning, physical activity and life satisfaction as well as decreased depression and mortality. However, it did not decrease the risk of chronic diseases or nursing home admission in old age. Only one study which met the inclusion criteria on the benefits of volunteering for older recipients was identified.
Studies mainly used data from large datasets with only limited information about volunteering, which limits more detailed analyses. Randomized controlled trials are needed to study the effect of voluntary work on those being served, as well as to reveal the healthy participant effect among volunteers.

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