The expansion of our senior population in the coming decades means new challenges for supporting each individual with their needs and their personal goals in later life. It also means new opportunities as these aging adults look for fitting ways to stay involved and serve their local San Francisco Bay Area communities. With a wealth of life experience and an investment in aging healthfully and vibrantly, seniors themselves may be an invaluable support system to help meet some of the challenges of the growing senior demographic.
Along with the revolutionary programs, services, and resources that are laying the foundation for more and more seniors to age in place and preserve their independence for as long as possible, older adults who want to play a dynamic role in the Bay Area community can offer the essential services of compassionate friendship and patient assistance. Senior Companion Programs are helping to connect these older adults and those who can benefit from the assistance. Not only are aging adults receiving well-rounded support in this way, but powerful friendships and wider connections are also being forged.
What Is the Senior Companion Program?
The Senior Companion Program is a governmental initiative that pairs volunteers 55 years of age and older with aging adults and adults living with disabilities who need support with everyday tasks and, of course, companionship. Volunteer companions serve for 15 to 40 hours each week and receive a tax-free stipend (if they qualify as low-income), training, and supplemental insurance for their service. The program is a branch of Senior Corps, a US government agency dedicated to supporting the comprehensive health and dignity of America’s senior population. The Senior Companion Program is run by local organizations in the Bay Area and around the country.
Depending on each person’s needs, senior companions may help with household chores, grocery shopping, bill pay, transportation, doctors visits and other appointments, and offering friendship and socialization—at no cost to participants. This assistance can go a long way toward helping seniors stay in their homes and remain independent, and it gives the volunteers a meaningful occupation and an additional source of income. For everyone involved, the program helps to build connections and community.
The Benefits of Having Senior Companion Care
The benefits are wide-reaching for those who receive senior companionship and for their families and caregivers. For those who are affected by disabilities, physical or mental illness, cognitive impairment, vision or hearing impairment, lack of transportation, isolation, or other concerns, home companion services can help take care of a range of tasks that make living at home more possible, more comfortable, more enjoyable for those aging in place. Some of the benefits include:
- Respite care. This service allows caregivers to take a break for self-care or to handle other responsibilities.
- Completion of tasks such as running errands, grocery shopping, and light housekeeping. This helps ensure an aging adult and/or their caregiver aren’t facing an overwhelming number of chores.
- A lookout for safety hazards around the house, emerging health challenges, or potential elder abuse. Whether the aging adult lives alone or has a regular caregiver, a senior companion can offer a fresh perspective to spot issues that might put an older adult at risk.
- A friend who can sit with an aging adult and talk to them. Especially if the person aging in place faces periods of isolation, this companionship can help to brighten their mood, keep their mind active, and bring them compassion and purpose as well. Perhaps having a senior companion will also encourage them to be more active and to expand their horizons in other ways.
- An advocate at medical appointments and on the phone with other service providers. A senior companion can promote their friend’s interests, relay pertinent details, and help them organize related documents.
Those who participate in the program and seek assistance will be paired up with a local volunteer who will understand the particular challenges of older adults in the area, as well as the resources available to improve their quality of life.
The Benefits of Becoming a Senior Companion
The volunteers who take part in the Senior Companion Program also experience diverse benefits that are both practical and personal. They are thoroughly supported in their companion responsibilities and offered some additional advantages to benefit their own quality of life, including:
- A small stipend that is tax-free if they qualify as low-income. While not a very large amount, this extra income can make a difference for retired seniors who have little to live on.
- Training before and during their time giving senior companion care so volunteers will feel prepared and empowered to serve and offer the best of their skills and care.
- Expense reimbursement for travel costs, meals, and other necessary expenses during the time of service so a volunteer doesn’t need to give more than their time and attention.
- Supplemental insurance while a volunteer is on duty includes personal liability and accident insurance and excess auto insurance when necessary.
- An annual physical medical exam to be given before a volunteer starts their companion assignment and then once a year while they participate in the program.
- A way to stay active physically and mentally.
- A meaningful occupation so volunteers can give back to the community and feel a sense of productive purpose.
- Social connections with those in their care, as well as other volunteers and members of the community that they meet through their work in the program.
For many in the program, the friendships they make endure and brighten their lives. Volunteers are recognized as important community partners, and they set a remarkable example of the compassion and productive services that our aging population needs.
How to Get Involved in Senior Companion Services in the Bay Area
If you are interested in getting involved with the Senior Companion Program or finding out more, you can reach out to Felton Institute at (415) 751-9786.
This program is just one of many opportunities for care and companionship in the Bay Area: comprehensive home care is also available for older and disabled adults. And, of course, there are other exciting opportunities to volunteer and support Bay Area seniors by offering your own unique knowledge and skills. Through programs like these, we can reverse the trend of isolation among older adults and promote support and respect for all of our loved ones and neighbors in every stage of life.
For any questions about the various services available for older adults and caregivers in the SF Bay Area or about how you can get involved, contact Institute on Aging today.