Break the cycle of isolation and stay healthy: Get involved in your community!

The Bottom Line

  • Factors related to each individual, their daily activities (occupation, leisure ...), and the broader environment influence the decision of older adults to become involved as volunteers.
  • Volunteering promotes a sense of accomplishment, breaks isolation, improves physical and psychological health, and reduces some of the negative stereotypes associated with aging.
  • Concrete measures can encourage the engagement of older adults and maintain their participation in volunteer activities.

It is estimated that 5% to 15% of the Western population lives with a feeling of loneliness (1) and that over 30% of older adults in Canada are at high risk of loneliness (2). Research evidence revealed that chronic loneliness increases the risk of dying by accident or suicide, heart disease, diabetes, cancer or infectious diseases (2).

Volunteering is a form of civic engagement that builds on the experience of older adults and breaks down social isolation, while providing them with a sense of accomplishment and belonging to the community. This feeling is accompanied by positive benefits for their health and quality of life.

A systematic review of 27 studies was conducted to identify factors influencing the engagement of older adults as volunteers, including factors related to each individual, their daily activities, and their broader environment, as well as to identify concrete ways to facilitate the recruitment of seniors and maintain their participation in volunteer activities (3).

What research tells us

Why do older adults become volunteers? To help others, to contribute to society, to meet people and to be part of social groups, which are often grounded in their values and interests. What are their characteristics? They often have better physical and psychological health, as well as greater satisfaction with life. Their life experiences usually guide them towards voluntary activities. Studies also show that being younger, being a woman and having a higher level of education are factors that encourage engagement as volunteers.

What makes it easier for older adults to volunteer? Make sure they can travel to volunteer activities easily, by public transit, for example. The presence of a friend in these activities, being relatively financially well off, and being in a relationship are other factors related to the social environment that have a positive impact on their engagement. However, having large families appears to be associated with older adults having less time available to devote to volunteering. In addition, organizations seeking volunteers must make themselves known, offer a variety of opportunities for older adults and ensure flexible schedules.

Among the factors related to how seniors spend their time, note that those who volunteer tend to participate more often in other types of community activities, and have more leisure time than those who are not engaged in volunteering activities. Also, working part-time or not having a paid job facilitates their engagement.

You want to recruit older volunteers? Make yourself known and give them challenging tasks that will meet their needs, interests and abilities. Do not hesitate to solicit your older volunteers to recruit friends or acquaintances, and offer them continuing training and recognition!

Are you a social worker? Encourage older adults to become involved in volunteer activities or refer them to prevention and health promotion programs or community support programs.

Are you an older adult? Become a volunteer to stay healthy, meet people and share your knowledge!

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Author Details


  1. La Presse. Le poids de la solitude. [Internet] 2017. [cited September 2017]. Available from:
  2. National Seniors Council. Report on the Social Isolation of Seniors 2013-2014. [Internet] Government of Canada, Gatineau: Canada, 2014. [cited September 2017]. Available from:
  3. Godbout, E., Filiatrault, J., & Plante, M. (2012). Seniors' participation in volunteer activities: A systematic review. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy. 79: 23-32.

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.