North York Mirror
A widow at a loss following the death of her husband found her calling as a therapeutic clown entertaining the elderly.
A retired dentist who spent his career working with his hands and talking to patients unable to respond while he worked in their mouths now enjoys chatting with seniors as he teaches them arts and crafts.
A librarian forced to leave her job after arthritis left her hands crippled still has the spirit of giving.
What do they have in common?
They are all volunteers at North York's Baycrest Geriatric Health Care System.
Nothing unusual about that. Most health and social agencies rely on volunteers. And there's no question patients and clients benefit from the much-needed care.
But what about advantages that the volunteers themselves gain from giving of their time?
On Tuesday, June 15, Baycrest announced the launch of Baycrest Research About Volunteering in Older Adults (BRAVO), a research project that will investigate the link between volunteering and healthy brain aging.
"I have seen people come in to volunteer who are all hunched over and six months later, their posture is better. They have smiles on their faces," said Lesley Miller, head of the BRAVO steering committee, who has seen first-hand the benefits volunteers get from reaching out to others.
Supported by a $450,000 grant from the federal government, BRAVO will run until 2013.
Not only will it research the benefits of volunteering on brain health in 200 adults aged 55 and older, it will hopefully also provide Baycrest with a new cache of recruits who will view the organization as their agency of choice for volunteering.
To qualify, recruits cannot be working or volunteering. They will be able to match their skills and interests with volunteering opportunities.
The project's senior scientist, Dr. Nicole Anderson, said the study will investigate the impact volunteering has on reducing the onset and progression of dementia.
"We want to explore where the brain goes with volunteering," she said.
While other studies have focused on how volunteering makes someone feel better, BRAVO will look at how it improves brain health such as memory and attention, a "use it or lose it" concept, Anderson said.
The idea for BRAVO was born in 2007 when she spoke about the benefits of volunteering on healthy aging at a Baycrest Volunteer Week event.
"I realized I knew very little about it," she said.
"When I was done, I said to Syrelle (Bernstein, Baycrest's director of volunteer services), 'Somebody should really study this' and Syrelle said 'Yes, we should'".
Bernstein believed Baycrest should conduct the BRAVO study because it a world leader in geriatric research.
"This has been a labour of love in a way. It has been a fabulous project," she added.
"It is about helping people through the journey of aging."
Nancy Posluns, who already volunteers with Baycrest's Memory Link project helping people with amnesia, is a volunteer tester with BRAVO, meaning she will help assess the hands-on volunteers in the program.
"I like BRAVO because I think there is a very important place for volunteers in the community. I don't think any organization with limitations and restrictions can function without volunteers," she said.
"I feel I'm getting a lot more than I give."
For more information, call the volunteer office at 416-785-2500, ext. 2572.