May 21, 2011
Seniors who keep busy working or volunteering may have discovered a fountain of youth. Research says there are benefits to both employment and volunteering. Staying healthy longer is one of them.
Q. I'm a 66-year-old retiree who had a successful 40-year career. I thought I'd really love retirement, but I find I miss working. Do you have any suggestions? Also, is there evidence that continuing to work harms seniors in any way?
You're not alone in your desire to continue to put your skills to use. Some studies have indicated that as many as 70 percent of Americans plan to work past the traditional retirement age.
What's more, your field of expertise may be missing your skills as much as you're yearning to put them to good use. The retirement of today's seniors, with the Baby Boomer generation soon to follow, will leave a void of experience and skills in the workplace. There's no reason why you shouldn't continue to work, if that's what you enjoy.
Have you thought about putting your talents to work as a self-employed contractor or consultant, perhaps in a home-based business? Technological advances and the Internet have made it easier than ever to work from home as an independent free agent. Part-time work also may be an option for older adults.
Among the advantages of self-employment are a flexible schedule and an independent work environment. On the other hand, as a consultant you could end up working more hours than you want. And remember that you must be responsible for your own taxes and other benefits, since you are basically your own boss. So you'll need to carefully weigh the pros and cons. Contact AARP at www.aarp.org for more information about being a contractor.
Part-time work also is something to consider and some experts say that type of employment may generate health benefits. Those seniors who work temporary or part-time jobs have fewer major diseases and will enjoy better day-to-day function than their contemporaries who choose to stop working altogether, according to a national study.
And, the researchers say, the findings are significant even after controlling for people's physical and mental health before retirement. The study's authors refer to this transition between career and complete retirement as "bridge employment," which can be a part-time job, self-employment or a temporary job. The findings are reported in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association.
Over the course of the study, the researchers considered only physician-diagnosed health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, lung disease, heart disease, stroke and psychiatric problems. They controlled not only for baseline physical and mental health but also for age, sex, education level and total financial wealth. The results showed the retirees who continued to work in a bridge job experienced fewer major diseases and fewer functional limitations than those who fully retired.
Employment isn't the only way to put your skills to work. Perhaps you would be just as happy volunteering. If you're a member of a professional organization, or if you were affiliated with organizations during your career, contact them for information about how to use your background to serve in your community.
According to a 2004 survey conducted by Independent Sector, a leadership forum for charities, foundations and corporate giving programs, almost 44 percent of all people 55 and older volunteer at least once a year. More than 36 percent reported that they had volunteered within the previous month. These older volunteers give on average 4.4 hours per week to the causes they support.
Volunteerism can come in many forms. One common way seniors give back to communities is by putting the skills they honed in the work force to use in the organizations and causes they enjoy. Some seniors just become more active in their churches or the charities they belonged to when they had less time to give. Why not consider doing something totally different from your occupation? How about working with seniors? Volunteer at a local hospital or care facility.
If you are looking for volunteer activities, check to see if your area has the "2-1-1" telephone service. The 2-1-1 service connects individuals and families seeking services or volunteer opportunities by telephone with the appropriate community-based organizations and government agencies.
There are other ways to learn about how to volunteer in your area. Contact your local senior center or the Area Agency on Aging. And here's another resource: log on to www.volunteermatch.org; by simply entering your ZIP Code, VolunteerMatch can list many volunteer opportunities in your area.
Another study confirms the premise that keeping the mind and body active appears to slow many of the signs and consequences of aging. This research finds that volunteering seems to produce the best results, however, paid work was a benefit as well.
UCLA researchers followed 1,072 healthy adults aged 70 to 79 between 1988 and 1991 to determine if productive activities – specifically volunteering, paid work and child care – prevent the onset of frailty. At the beginning of the study, 28 percent of participants volunteered, 25 percent performed child care duties and 19 percent worked for pay.
After three years, participants in all three activities were found to be less likely to become frail. After accounting for levels of physical and cognitive function, however, only volunteering was associated with lower rates of frailty. Frailty is a geriatric condition marked by weight loss, low energy and strength, and low physical activity.
If you would like to know more about how to prevent frailty, visit www.getmommoving.com, the Home Instead Senior Care® network's public education campaign that is geared toward keeping seniors active and healthy.
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