Being a volunteer encountering older people's loneliness and existential loneliness: alleviating loneliness for others and oneself

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BACKGROUND: The increasing proportion of older people worldwide is challenging society and the healthcare sector to develop new solutions, such as involving volunteers, especially to combat loneliness among older people. Loneliness is a broad concept comprising, for example existential loneliness - a deep feeling of aloneness in the world. We know little about volunteers' experience of encountering older people's loneliness in general and existential loneliness in particular. Such knowledge is important in order to develop high-quality volunteering.

AIM: This study aimed to describe volunteers' experience of becoming and being a volunteer, and encountering older people's loneliness in general and existential loneliness in particular.

METHODS: This descriptive qualitative study is based on eight focus group interviews and twelve individual interviews with volunteers from different organisations, analysed using conventional content analysis.

FINDINGS: Being a volunteer meant being a fellow human being, alleviating loneliness for others and oneself. Becoming a volunteer was a way of finding meaning, and volunteering made the volunteers feel rewarded and simultaneously emotionally challenged. Being a volunteer also meant acting on one's values, challenging boundaries when necessary. Encountering loneliness, including existential loneliness, required sensitivity to others' needs for both closeness and distance.

CONCLUSION: Being a volunteer benefitted not only the older persons the volunteers met, but also the volunteers' own sense of meaning, by alleviating their own loneliness. Sharing existential thoughts and having meaningful conversations about life and death are challenging, but can contribute to the personal growth of the volunteers themselves. It is important to remember that not all volunteers are confident in having existential conversations, so it is important to pay attention to each volunteer's prerequisites and needs. In addition, there is a need for support to volunteers' engagement such as clarifying their role and clarifying the responsibility and expectations from health and social care.

OriginalspråkEngelska
Sidor (från-till)538-547
Antal sidor9
TidskriftScandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences
Volym35
Utgåva2
DOI
StatusE-pub före tryck - 2020

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