Volunteers Ken and Elizabeth Lockwood
Volunteers Ken and Elizabeth Lockwood

This morning I was arrested by a newsletter that said, ‘8 ways of feeling younger and fitter.’  Younger and fitter?  If you don’t feel fit in your 20s or 30s (or arguably, 40s or even 50s) you don’t feel old, you just don’t feel well.  But in your fifties and later, it’s different.  Then, if you don’t feel fit you do feel old.  Why is that?

Much of what we think is determined by the context in which we live, and by our core beliefs about ourselves.  And, surprisingly, by how we behave.   And study after study shows – by how much help we give to others.

There’s oodles written on the power of helping others.  Here are just a couple of examples out of thousands:   ‘Helping Others Dampens the Effects of Everyday Stress’ is the finding of research by the Association for Psychological Science. See the reference below. [i]

A ‘Guide to Mental and Emotional Health’  emphasizes the benefits of a volunteering role (see below.)  [ii] When researchers at the London School of Economics examined the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness in a large group of American adults, they found the more people volunteered, the happier they were.   Compared with people who never volunteered, the odds of being “very happy” rose 7% among those who volunteer monthly and 12% for people who volunteer every two to four weeks. Among weekly volunteers, 16% felt very happy—a hike in happiness comparable to having an income of $75,000–$100,000 versus $20,000, say the researchers.[iii]

Captivating corner at Framland
Captivating corner at Framland

Caring for an older person has the same effect, according to those I spoke to last week in our residential home in Wantage.  You go home each day knowing that you’ve made a huge difference to someone’s life, they told me.  And the enhanced approach to dementia care (Hummingbird), the home has adopted gives  a deep sense of joy.  Hummingbird involves giving frequent notes of encouragement to people with dementia, and stopping to talk to them about things that are meaningful to them.  It could be opening a book and commenting that today’s  trains are different to the steam trains they knew in their day, or sharing the message on a birthday card they’ve received, or reading a psalm or a Scripture verse.  ‘It’s lovely to see them coming alive,’ said a carer, ‘looking happier and contented.’

In job satisfaction, in reducing stress, in seeing the significance of what you are doing and releasing joy, being a carer clearly has a lot going for it.

So why is it hard to recruit carers?  Could it be the bad press there’s been for years about the job?  The same applies to care home managers, who are as precious as the rarest diamond, and just as scarce.  But unlike diamonds, carers and home managers change lives.

Last Tuesday I sat with a group of fairly elderly ladies (the oldest was 94) and asked what it meant to them to be in the home.  One had raised six sons and had worked hard all her life, and for her, it was the comfort of being looked after.   For another, it was the security that came from knowing that however more her health deteriorated, she would be safely cared for.  Another said that she’d hated living on her own; she’d always been part of a large family and being here was like being in family again, and the other said that she’d simply become too frail to look after herself and for her, the benefit of the home was ‘the whole of it’.  After lunch, one of the ladies took a tray and helped to clear the table.  Later on I saw another folding table napkins, towels and tea towel, etc.  Being in Framland doesn’t mean you’ve lost a sense of purpose in life; on the contrary, you’re supported well enough to be able to pursue it, whether it’s tidying the table or translating the Old Testament into Tamil Nadu, as a 92 year old resident I met some time ago, was doing.  Or spending time with the Lord, getting to know Him better.

There is joy in caring for others.  Caring is good for you, and for your health.  And incredibly, Jesus said that He is touched directly by what we do for the ‘least’ of His brethren (Matthew 25:40).

If you’d like to know about being a carer with us, or being a volunteer, email info@pilgrimsfriend.org.uk    And do yourself a favour!

[i] http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/helping-others-dampens-the-effects-of-everyday-stress.html

 

[ii] http://www.helpguide.org/articles/work-career/volunteering-and-its-surprising-benefits.htm

 

[iii] http://www.health.harvard.edu/special-health-reports/simple-changes-big-rewards-a-practical-easy-guide-for-healthy-happy-living

 

Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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