On Your Health

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Aging With Purpose Through Volunteering

Most days, Nancy Landrum is busy all day, in meetings and taking care of business. At 80 years old, this Oklahoma City resident isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Despite a lifetime of battling hearing loss, she’s just as passionate about volunteering as ever.

"I’ve been a volunteer at INTEGRIS Volunteer Auxiliary since I moved to Oklahoma City 47 years ago," says Landrum. 

In that time, Landrum went through a divorce, raised two children as a single parent, earned her master’s degree, worked for 21 years as an elementary school counselor with Yukon Public Schools, and cared for her second husband as he lost his battle with Alzheimer’s. She says that throughout, her work as a volunteer has given her purpose in life through times both good and bad.

As the saying goes, "Aging isn’t for wimps." The physical and mental changes a person experiences as they grow older can be traumatic for some. However, a growing amount of research shows that feeling useful makes the transition to the golden years much easier for many people.

Although genetics play a role in how we age, staying active is also critical to aging in a healthy way. For instance, it’s been shown that volunteering actually helps keep your brain strong, especially for aging adults. A study by Johns Hopkins showed that volunteering can delay and even reverse the onset of diseases and cognitive decline associated with aging. 

And did you know people who volunteer live longer? A recent study found that helping others on a regular basis can reduce early mortality rates by 22 percent, compared to those in people who didn't participate in such activities.

In addition, a report from The Corporation for National and Community Service called The Health Benefits of Volunteering discusses even more benefits for older adults when they get involved and volunteer. These include:

  • Finding a sense of community with social support networks and social activities.
  • A lower risk for social isolation and aging-related stresses.
  • Increased levels of physical activity. 
  • A link to improved quality of life, more life satisfaction and higher self-esteem.

Getting involved

For Landrum, being a volunteer has been critical to her well-being and happiness as she has gotten older. Landrum suffered from hearing loss at a young age, and she says her life was profoundly affected by her inability to understand conversations. In 2003, she received her first Cochlear implant, followed by her second one in 2009. 

Despite the challenges, nothing slowed her down. "If anything, getting the implant speeded me up," she says. "Since the implant, I’m very active in the Hearing Loss Association and in the Hearing Helper Room at INTEGRIS. We reach out to the public to let them know we have devices here to help with hearing, like alert systems, TV listening devices and phone amplifiers. It keeps me very busy."

Landrum never consciously thought she was taking any special steps to remain spry and healthy as she got older. Instead, she simply took the challenges that life gave her as a reason to get involved and help others, which ultimately benefited her as much as the ones she helped.

"I thrive around people. I’m very social. I’m not one of those people who can sit at home," she says. "With volunteering, you don’t have to interact with people all the time (though I think that’s best). Just being around other people some of the time helps," Landrum says.

"There are so many things older people can offer today There is no need to be lonely. My life had a lot of silence before my implants, so energy and liveliness are now very important to me."

What has inspired Landrum to continue with her active volunteering schedule for almost 50 years? In fact, that came just as she started volunteering at INTEGRIS so many years ago.

"There was this very sweet elderly lady when I first started. She was so kind, and you could talk to her about anything," says Landrum. "She was the epitome of growing old graciously. I was inspired by her, and now that I’m that age, I want to be the same."

How to volunteer

Volunteering opens the door to incredibly rewarding experiences both for you and those you serve. But finding the opportunity that best suits your skills and expectations can make all the difference. A good place to start is somewhere you’re already invested. Do you give money to a church or charity? See what volunteer opportunities are available within those communities. Local food pantries, hospitals and animal shelters always need help.

At INTEGRIS, there are a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for those passionate about health care and healing. According to Karli Stroh, the metro director of volunteer services at INTEGRIS, there are 800 lifetime INTEGRIS Volunteer Auxiliary members.

She says, "No matter a volunteer’s skills or interests, we can always find a good fit. If working with people is your desire – we have the volunteer role for you. If you prefer to work in a more private, quiet setting – we have that, too. Each person has the opportunity to put a personal fingerprint on volunteer service to our hospitals." 

To learn more about volunteering at INTEGRIS, visit online at integrisok.com/volunteer or call the department of volunteer services at 405-949-3183. As Landrum says, "It’s just a matter of calling or going to the volunteer office and enrolling. You don’t need any specific skills, but just a willingness to serve."

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