As of 2019, 13% of adults aged 65 and older live in some type of residential care setting. Over the age of 90, that number jumps to 40%, showing just how important these facilities are, including the team of people who help sustain them. Having more help on hand in your facility from people who have a passion for making a difference and want to care for those who need it is beneficial in many ways.
While you staff your long-term care and assisted living facilities with nurses and other skilled professionals that maintain housekeeping and similar services, volunteers are just as valuable. It takes a well-rounded and diverse community to care for older adults and others needing long-term care — and volunteers provide that extra helping hand and comfort for those who need it most.
How Do Long Term Care Facilities Use Volunteers?
When volunteers visit long-term care facilities, they often focus on helping staff fulfill their needs and assisting residents with daily activities, which help improve the resident's overall health and well-being. While volunteers undoubtedly make a huge impact on the lives of residents, they also improve the lives of staff and the facility in general with their added help.
Some of the most common services volunteers provide include:
- Shopping and errand assistance
- Meal preparation
- Creating and organizing activities
- Transporting residents to social outings or religious services
However, volunteer visitation may be the most common way facilities use their volunteers in senior living facilities.
What Opportunities Could You Provide in Your Facility?
There are plenty of volunteer opportunities for long-term care facility activities that you may have not thought of yet. First and foremost, consider what residents and patients could benefit from, such as activities and events that volunteers could organize and conduct, or what daily chores and tasks volunteers could help with that nursing staff may not always be able to perform.
Your nursing staff is likely already busy maintaining medical care, so they might not have as much time to engage in these types of projects, which is where the perfect opportunity opens up for volunteers.
Your volunteers can provide company and bring comfort for residents as they assist in hosting bingo nights, card games, and dances. They can help residents organize their belongings, do their laundry, and get dressed for outings. You can reach out to volunteers who have a musical background to put on a show at your facility, turning a routine night into an exciting event that gives residents something new to look forward to.
You can also encourage volunteers to create a community garden at your facility so residents can enjoy the outdoors and get excited when they successfully grow plants and flowers. Exercise is also an important element that volunteers can assist with, ensuring that your residents benefit from physical activity modified for older adults and maintain their movements. You can provide volunteers with many opportunities in your facility that improve residents' feelings of joy, increase their social interactions, and lend a hand to existing caring staff.
Are Volunteers Effective?
Volunteers are generally helpful, but it's worth considering their effectiveness in settings where you value your residents' comfort and happiness. The role of the volunteer is often to represent the interests of the residents, but they must also be able to problem-solve, navigate relationships with residents, and work effectively with families and other staff.
Research has shown that volunteers effectively improve symptoms of depression and anxiety in residents, which is highly prevalent in care facilities. In one study, more than three-fourths of volunteers reported that their relationships were effective in such facilities, and 40% said the top factors that contributed to their effectiveness were good communication and responsive facility staff.
Another study showed the significance of volunteers related to the health-related outcomes of residents, with an overall decrease in falls and an increase in overall physical activity. This research shows that while volunteers provide fun activities for residents, they can also assist nursing staff in preventing physical harm for residents who have trouble walking or navigating the facility on their own.
Volunteers can also help with communication between residents and nursing staff, professional caregivers, and relatives. Previous studies show that volunteers fulfill the role and function of a go-between for patients and caregivers in 81% of organizations, and relatives in 68% of organizations.
This research also stated that volunteers provide quality palliative care through assisting with visiting residents, providing companionship, and managing recreational and social activities. This study concluded that volunteers positively influence the quality of care by reducing stress, providing a link to the community, and offering practical and emotional support.
How Can You Effectively Use Volunteers?
To use your volunteers most effectively, you should provide them with adequate training, orientation, and resources. Without these essential elements, volunteers may not understand the proper structure you use to run your facility. When volunteers are properly educated about their role and supervised initially, it's easier for them to acclimate to your facility environment and connect with residents.
Once you have established these areas, you can use volunteers in a myriad of ways that improve the life of residents and bring positive energy to your long-term care or assisted living facility. Here are a few ways you can implement effective volunteer use.
Having a support system is perhaps the most important role that volunteers can fill in long-term living care. Social visits and regular companionship can prevent residents from feeling lonely or isolated from the outside world. Social isolation is particularly serious in older adults as it's associated with a 50% increase in the risk of dementia and other serious medical conditions. Volunteers can offset these negative feelings and provide much-needed companionship, social outings, and entertainment — giving residents a feeling of independence and social life.
From simply spending time chatting over coffee to organizing a holiday party for the entire facility, volunteers can assist in many different ways that create a positive environment for residents.
Volunteers can help residents gain access to a larger community outside of your facility by taking them to routine appointments, haircuts, shopping malls, or any change in environment. Some residents may not have the means for transportation unless they need to visit health and social service providers for a specific reason. In this case, volunteers can aid nursing staff and add a little spontaneity to a resident's day by giving them a special outing.
Skills and Services
It's common for older residents to feel socially isolated and depressed when living in a long-term care facility, which can lead to negative physical and mental health issues. Residents need to maintain their self-esteem through social activity. Volunteers can help with this by offering their companionship and bringing in their previous experience to share skills they've learned along the way. Volunteers who have expertise in other backgrounds can bring those skills to residents they volunteer with and create new experiences.
Whether they give haircuts, manicures, massages, painting classes, yoga classes, or any other activity, these activities can gently push residents out of their comfort zone to experience something new. This will also create a sense of community within your facility as volunteers feel more useful in donating their time with skills they have mastered in other areas, making it a fun activity for all. Even if volunteers are not particularly skilled in any of these areas, they can still help maintain residents' personal care and make them feel valued.
Aside from bringing in activities based on previous experience and skills, volunteers can also generate positive change in residents' daily routines. Volunteers come from all backgrounds and age groups, so they are bound to bring in new perspectives that can help create fresh ideas for your facility activities and game nights. You can ask volunteers to come up with exciting new events, dances, or any other hobbies that may bring a fun new addition to your resident's week.
Diverse volunteers can also make it more exciting for residents to interact and make friends with different people. For example, younger volunteers might introduce residents to new ways of accessing their favorite music or show them how to connect with their families through social media. Older volunteers can connect with residents and share generational stories about their families or fond memories of their past.
What Are the Benefits of Using Volunteers in Long-Term Care Facilities?
Using volunteers in your long-term care or assisted living facility brings a wealth of benefits to the residents, most importantly, but also for your existing nursing staff and other team members that work hard to create a positive impact.
Improving Quality of Service
Volunteers can improve the quality of service in your facility by positively impacting nutrition, delirium, the occurrence of falls, and other health outcomes with their support, according to research. This review focused on the valuable contributions volunteers have on older adults in care facilities from therapeutic activities to mealtime assistance.
Helping Residents Stay Young at Heart
Though many older adults require around-the-clock care that assisted living facilities offer, it's still a transition that causes stress and a prolonged adjustment period for some. Residents may feel that their new living environment limits their sense of independence, especially if they struggle with mobility.
Volunteers, particularly younger volunteers, can encourage residents' inner youthful spirit and help them continue to do things they love to do, such as painting, writing, doing puzzles, or any activity that makes them enjoy their free time. Volunteers can also help offset feelings of loneliness, which can lead to a variety of health problems such as cognitive decline, Alzheimer's disease, and a weakened immune system. Consider the difference a volunteer can make by simply having a meaningful chat with your residents or taking them out to enjoy a memorable experience they can later share with their loved ones.
Assisting Nurses and Staff
Volunteers can assist in several tasks that help nursing staff and other professionals in your facility take on the workload and responsibility for caregiving. While your nursing staff performs medical treatment and dispenses medications, volunteers can take over other activities that don't require a nurse to be present — such as residents' religious and spiritual needs.
Volunteers can help residents keep in touch with their faith by taking them to religious services, assisting them with resources that make adjusting to their new facility easier, and helping them establish a routine that still provides independence.
Volunteers also play an important role at mealtimes. Under nursing staff supervision, volunteers can get the proper information about a resident's dietary requirements, prepare their food, and help them eat. Many residents might need assistance with adding condiments to their food, using utensils, or reaching for their drinks. Volunteers can help in this instance and lighten the load on nurses who may need to deliver medications or assist a resident who has a severe food allergy.
One study examined the different ways that volunteers help with countless tasks, and 87% of organizations responded that their volunteers assisted with helping residents eat, while 78% also helped with lifting and moving. Your volunteers can also assist residents in exercise to increase motor skills and play memory games to improve cognitive function — which will improve their overall state and may make it easier for nurses to do their job.
Families and loved ones of residents in care facilities will benefit from knowing that your volunteers are providing extra care and attention in addition to your valuable existing staff. Volunteers offer support by lending a listening ear, bringing a sense of belonging, and helping create fun for residents — ensuring their family members have peace of mind.
Volunteers can also provide time and assistance that help families with the responsibilities of caregiving such as writing letters and cards, recording a resident's memories and life story, helping them organize their closet, or shopping online for new clothes and accessories. Even the most simple volunteer task, such as having a thoughtful conversation with a resident over a meal, can make families feel confident that your facility is properly caring for their loved one and going the extra mile to make them feel comfortable.
Providing All With a Sense of Purpose
Implementing a volunteer program at your care facility can prove mutually beneficial for everyone involved. While residents will see an improved sense of quality care, support, physical activity, and social interaction, volunteers will also gain meaningful insight. Older adults can bestow their years of experience and wisdom through thoughtful advice while interacting with volunteers and making them feel that they have something worth sharing.
For volunteers, the benefits are equally as great, as they can gain knowledge and perspective from those they are helping and feel that they are contributing to an important purpose, as well as absorb useful organizational and coordination skills for their future. Those who are new to volunteering can also benefit from strengthened communication and interpersonal skills as they develop connections with residents and other staff throughout their time in the facility.
Older volunteers who have retired may have more in common with residents and be able to relate to them and encourage them to share experiences about their lives. As volunteers develop these friendships and relationships, residents will look forward to their favorite volunteer coming that day to play a game, read to them, or help them look through photos albums of their families and talk about their lives. These connections can give everyone involved a sense of community and belonging.
Optimize Your Volunteer Engagement With SmartLinx
Bringing in volunteers to your long-term care facility is a great opportunity for residents to engage with new people and activities that keep them feeling like valued members of the community. With SmartLinx, managing your volunteer and staffing workforce is easy with our operational solutions that let you access scheduling, staff performance, applicant tracking, and payroll — ensuring you have plenty of staff on hand at any given time.
Our workforce management software allows you to maintain compliance and manage administrative tasks so you can spend more time focusing on proving high-quality care for your residents. Contact us today or schedule a demo to learn more about our resources and services in the long-term care industry.