Just as you make sure to keep a nutritious diet and maintain sufficient levels of physical activity as you age, you should put the same amount of effort into nurturing social connections.
That was a key message from the Annual Conference on Successful Aging, held Feb. 20 at the DoubleTree Tucson.
Social connectedness plays a role in both physical and mental health among older adults, as a way to maintain a sense of purpose and engagement during life transitions, such as retirement.
It can also take many forms, from taking classes to joining social clubs.
Volunteering is another key way to avoid isolation and live a more stimulating life. But today, volunteering is no longer about putting people in a corner and asking them to merely address envelopes or fold brochures, said L’Don Sawyer, director of TMC Senior Services. The trend of ‘volunteer professionalism’ recognizes the unique contributions, skills and talents each volunteer brings.
But how to find the right fit?
Start with a skills and interest inventory, Sawyer suggested. “Spend some time thinking about what you want to get out of this.”
Do you want to use the skills you used in your work or do you want to learn something new?
Do you want to volunteer on a regular basis or on a case-by-case basis? Is socialization a goal, or do you already have a rich social life?
“Choose something you’re passionate about. It really does make a difference,” she advised, adding that volunteers should dig a little into the nitty-gritty of what the expectations are, particularly for skilled assignments. Is there a job description? A defined time commitment? Fingerprints? Immunizations?
Newcomers may consider bringing a buddy for support, and should also watch out for volunteer creep, she advised. So many assignments might sound interesting, she said, “that before you know it, you’ve walked out and agreed to 40 hours a week. Start incrementally and go from there.”
Enjoy the search, Sawyer said. “It’s not one size fits all, but the good news is that there are enough agencies and groups looking for people, that you can certainly find the right fit.”
For more information about TMC’s Senior Services, including volunteer opportunities, please visit www.tmcaz.com/Community/Seniors, or call 520-324-1960.