Senior Companions share the best things in lifeOct 29, 2019 10:11AM ● By Arlyn Macdonald
Region 10’s new Senior Companion Program connects active adults age 55 and older with adults age 60 and older who may be coping with physical problems, live alone, have lost their ability to drive or feel isolated and alone. The two become companions who share interests, develop a friendship and have fun together on a weekly basis.
“Loneliness and isolation are public health issues,” said Meg Nagel, the program’s director. She added that they also affect mental, emotional and physical health and are a major cause of depression and cognitive decline in people.
“By introducing two seniors—one who has time on his or her hands and the other who needs some support— the Senior Companion Program builds friendships and helps both participants lead more satisfying and independent lives,” Nagel said.
The program gives active seniors an opportunity to give back to others in a way that makes a difference in someone’s life who may be homebound, frail, socially isolated, have no family, or just needs a bit of friendly support. Volunteer companions can also offer caregivers needed respite time.
Host companions often gain a new outlook on life as they are again able to enjoy friendly visits, and have company that helps them with grocery shopping, errands, or going with them to a doctor's appointment. It’s difficult for many seniors to do these activities when they can no longer drive, and it makes a difference to have someone when they feel lonely.
Cathy White discovered the program when her parents were in their 90s and still living on their own.
“When I first heard about the program, I couldn’t wait to tell my parents about it,” said White. “We scheduled an interview with Meg Nagel and a few weeks later their new companion came to call.”
White found that the companions were more than just caregivers to her parents, but friends as well.
“For my parents, it’s always fun to find a new friend and there was plenty for them to talk about. Each week they did something different. The volunteer companion took them to the grocery store and to do other errands or they went out to lunch or coffee. Sometimes they simply stayed home and talked,” she added.
As a caregiver for her parents, White was grateful to have some time off when the volunteer companions came to visit.
“Those days were also a day off for me and I felt comfortable knowing that someone else was there to spend time with them,” White said. “When the time came for my parents to make the move to assisted living, their volunteer companion came to visit them there as well.”
Christene Ingram, a volunteer companion, has two ladies she visits each week.
“I am so happy to have my health and be able to help other people,” she said. “I have a lady in Delta and we go out every week for ice cream and a drive in the country.”
Her other host companion lives in Montrose and has no living relatives. Ingram accompanies her to doctor’s appointments for support and encouragement.
“Just to have someone be with her is so important because she felt so alone,” Ingram explained.
Ingram also qualifies to receive a small stipend for being a volunteer companion.
“The stipend is very low, but the extra money is significant to me,” said Ingram.
Ingram, who has volunteered since March, is touched by the humbleness and appreciation of her host companions.
“The program is working extremely well for me. I have no negatives,” she said.
Volunteer companions with limited income may receive a stipend for their volunteer hours and mileage compensation. Becoming a volunteer companion requires training and a screening process that includes a background and reference check. Those who use their cars for transportation of host companions must have proof of auto insurance and receive supplemental auto insurance through the program.
Seniors interested in becoming host companions may apply through Volunteers of America Options Counselors through Region 10. The program is free.
Volunteer companions needed
More volunteer companions are needed to help the Host Companions who are waiting for supportive new friends. Contact Meg Nagel at 765-3123 or [email protected] for more information about how to become a volunteer companion or host companion.Explore the BEACON Guide.