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Volunteers in Assisted Living
Services Performed by Volunteers in Assisted Living

Volunteers are people who do unpaid work (except for expenses) for an organization. They do more than give back, volunteers are essential to helping organizations achieve goals and execute their purpose.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 64.5 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2011 and September 2012.

The data on volunteers, collected through a supplement to the September 2012 Current Population Survey (CPS), and sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

The CPS is a monthly survey of about 60,000 households that obtains information on employment and unemployment among the nation's population age 16 and over.

How Volunteers Help Residents

Volunteers play a big part in helping older adults with outings and activities or in weekly community service projects. Many get involved in assisted living and retirement communities. It's a great place to volunteer for people who have a special interest in older people and appreciates their wisdom and generosity. Some facilities have a volunteer coordinator on staff.

In a study by the Center for Disease Control in 2010, thirty-three percent (33%) of assisted living facilities have volunteers help residents or the staff. Facilities use volunteers on a weekly basis to help with simple services. Nearly forty-one percent (41%) of the facilities that use volunteers, surveyed by the 2010 CDC study, have at least four (4) volunteers to help out at least one day a week, and nineteen percent (19%) have at least three (3) volunteers each week.

During the past 7 days or last work week, did your facility use any volunteers to help your residents or this facility's staff in any way?

Source: 2010 CDC National Survey of Residential Care Facilities Survey (Facility Responses)
If your facility uses volunteers, during the last 7 days or last work week, about how many volunteer workers provided services at the facility at least once?
Responses of legitimate skip (67%), and don't know (< 1%) and are not shown.
Source: 2010 CDC National Survey of Residential Care Facilities Survey (Facility Responses)

How Facilities Use Volunteer Services

When you volunteer at an assisted-living facility, you're helping the staff fulfill the needed daily activities of the organization that affects the health and well-being of residents. In addition to helping the older adults living there, volunteers make big differences in the lives of the staff and the overall organization. Volunteers are not expected to look after difficult responsibilities; they perform simple activities like teaching a class, cooking healthy meals for residents or making companion visits.

What services do volunteers provide?
The data in this chart has been rounded and simplified.
Source: 2010 CDC National Survey of Residential Care Facilities Survey (Facility Responses)
What services do volunteers provide?
The data in this chart has been rounded and simplified.
Source: 2010 CDC National Survey of Residential Care Facilities Survey (Facility Responses)

Why People Volunteer

People choose to volunteer for many reasons. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, volunteers spent a median of 50 hours on activities during the period from September 2011 to September 2012. Median annual hours spent on volunteer activities ranged from a low of 32 hours for those 25 to 34 years old to a high of 90 hours for volunteers age 65 and over.

Seniors in retirement often use their work skills at assisted living facilities to help out, like performing administrative office duties, like answering phone calls or filing. Male volunteers engaged in general labor tasks, computer maintenance and technology activities for the administrative office, while females filed, prepared documents, answered phones and did mailing chores.

Of all the facilities, surveyed in the 2010 CDC study, eight percent (8%) have volunteers help with general office activities, while ninety-two percent (92%) of resident care facilities do not.

Facilities do not expect volunteers to house keep or clean. Yet some volunteers enjoy helping residents with minor household tasks, like folding a load of laundry, organizing the mail and incidentals, cleaning and organizing cluttered closets or drawers, and dusting.

The more frail a resident is, the more help needed around the apartment or room.

The CDC study shows that eighty-seven percent (87%) of facilities surveyed do not use volunteers for resident's housekeeping duties and household services. Only thirteen percent (13%) receive volunteer help with housecleaning chores.

Business Owners Volunteer Their Skills and Services

Volunteer Hairstylist
Volunteer Hairstylist

Cosmetology schools, instructors and students, volunteer skills and work as part of their training and program. Many senior students go to assisted living facilities and residential homes to volunteer nail care and give manicures, haircuts and hair styling. Local massage schools donate students' time (for training) at assisted living communities to give full or partial body massages.

The volunteer services and skills acquired help students step out of their comfort zones. Through the course of the year, students develop friendships with the residents, and that's fun for both. It creates beneficial relationships between the community and students too.

Close to twenty-two percent (22%) of assisted living facilities surveyed use volunteers to provide personal care line haircuts, hand and nail care, pedicures, and massage. Seventy-eight percent (78%) do not use volunteers for residents' personal care activities.

Drivers Volunteer Transportation

Volunteers help residents have access to the larger community by providing light transportation to and from non-emergency medical appointments, to and from health and social service providers, and to and from special events for residents who do not have means for transportation.

In the 2010 CDC survey, thirteen percent (13%) of the facilities allow volunteers to provide transportation services, while eighty-seven percent (87%) do not.

Companionship and Visits


Social assistance like friendly visits, companionship, entertainment and social outings for residents is a good opportunity for volunteers. Residents want and need help from another person to maintain independence and a social life. This service is in big demand by seventy-three percent (73%) of assisted living facilities.

Volunteers can also spend quality time with older adults by attending coffee chats and afternoon social events, organizing holiday parties, all of which occur at the assisted living community. Eighty percent (80%) of the communities enjoy the work of volunteers who provide social and recreational activities on-site.

Spiritual Volunteers

Religion and spiritual activities become very important as we age, as the end of life becomes real and less of an abstraction. A resident's religion and spiritual practices help them cope with the aging process. Assisted living facilities strive to meet cultural and spiritual well-being of residents and volunteers give their time to help meet the spiritual needs.

Fifty-nine percent of the surveyed facilities have volunteers who provide time and resources for religious and spiritual activities.

Volunteers play an important role during mealtime at facilities. Twenty percent (20%) of facilities have volunteers, who're properly trained, as a meal assistant. Usually the volunteers help feed residents during meal times but they need to know the resident's dietary requirements. Under nursing staff supervision, volunteers can assist the staff with meal set up; encourage residents to eat, assist if they need help with reaching for drinks, adding continents to food, or helping with utensils.

There are nineteen percent (19%) of senior housing facilities that appreciate the help of volunteers to perform activities like grocery shopping or running a resident's errands, or organizing another errand or activity.

A number of activities designed for exercise to increase motor skills, sensory skills, and memory stimulation allow volunteers to work with large or small groups of residents. They give help with memory games, fitness activities, Wii fitness games, and many more. Twenty-eight percent (28%) of facilities have a volunteer program that's part of their activity team.

Be a Volunteer

Contact the volunteer coordinator or activities director of an assisted-living facility to inquire about volunteering opportunities. A volunteer fills out an application, undergoes a criminal background check and has an informal interview or training. When meeting face-to-face with the volunteer coordinator, be specific about the duties you want to perform. The coordinator arranges for the responsibilities you do at the facility.

You'll make a resident's life easier by doing little things as often as you're able. Commit random acts of kindness regularly, like giving hugs, spending extra time with a resident or reading a book aloud.

Work with the volunteer coordinator to organize other people to help the community. While many have full-time jobs and successful careers, some may want to volunteer a few hours a week.

Carol Marak
Carol Marak

After seven years of helping her aging parents, Carol Marak has become a dedicated senior care writer. Since 2007, she has been doing the research to find answers to common concerns: housing, aging and health, staying safe and independent, and planning long-term.