Volunteers are called navigators, as they help navigate changes in quality of life and aging with clients, a role that previous clients have described as making their life with serious illness “more liveable.” Volunteers are not involved in healthcare system navigation – that is the role of social workers at the hospital and referrals can be made for clients needing this kind of support.

Some examples of navigating: filling in forms together; making necessary phone calls together, particularly for a client who is deaf or hard of hearing; finding mobility or sensory aids to assist with daily living; helping the client and family to understand what they can expect in the future; providing empathetic listening; supporting decision-making in complex situations.

Volunteers and clients are paired 1:1 based on personality, interests, and life experience to encourage the development of a close relationship. Volunteers help to reconnect clients with their community by visiting them in their home, or as one client said, by “bringing the community to them.”

Some examples of connecting: having friendly visits together; telling stories; signing up for an intergenerational gardening program; finding in-person or online support groups (could be with others living with the same illness); looking up information for the client; connecting the client to their religious or spiritual community; support creating new or maintaining existing relationships after a major loss; providing grief support.

Volunteers work with clients to assess their quality of life and identify potential areas where the volunteer can provide support. Assessing is important for safety because it involves looking for and identifying a concern before it becomes a problem. It also allows the client to reflect on how they feel about the many aspects of their lives in an honest manner.

Some examples of assessing: asking what is most important in their lives right now; prioritizing client needs and creating relevant action plans; talking about their caregiving situation, how that might need to change in the future, and what options exist; initiating discussion about common quality of life concerns such as: pain, fatigue/exhaustion, nausea/vomiting/constipation, loss of appetite, or breathlessness and supporting connection to healthcare professionals to improve symptom management.

Many services and resources go under-utilized because the people who need them are too overwhelmed to actively seek them out or sift through all the options to find the right fit. Volunteers can help connect clients with other services and resources in the community that can help support them to maintain their independence. Rather than have the volunteer do everything for the client and therefore end up in a dependent situation, volunteers seek out existing services that broaden the client’s support network

Some examples of resourcing: finding transportation to appointments and social outings; connecting a client with a grocery delivery service; helping a client to create an appropriate Advance Care Plan and initiate the conversation with their loved ones; signing up for homecare services; finding low-cost house cleaning or yard work services; connecting a client to financial or legal services when necessary; helping a client find appropriate housing or transition to assisted/long-term care; referring to healthcare services such as counseling, occupational therapists, etc.

As people age, they may feel increasingly disengaged in what makes their lives meaningful. Volunteers can help older adults to reconnect with hobbies, social groups, physical activity, and technology to make their lives feel more enriched and enjoyable.

Some examples of engaging: attending an activity or event together; searching for interest or social groups that match the client; practicing a game or activity to rebuild client confidence in their ability to do it independently; doing activities together, such as walking or swimming; helping the client to connect with their family; teaching a client to use technology or adaptive equipment; looking at photo albums together; doing a life review; writing down or recording stories as a memoir for family/friends; talking about end-of-life.