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Rebound Detroit: Local companion programs for seniors facing social isolation

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Posted at 9:13 AM, Jul 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-02 09:16:00-04

(WXYZ) — While many Michiganders are now back at work and back out in public, not everyone is emerging from lockdown.

Many seniors are still staying at home.

Some because of underlying conditions, others because age itself has been linked to severe cases of COVID-19. But just because seniors are at home doesn't mean they have to be alone.

Seniors stuck at home because of the coronavirus have a difficult choice: emerge from quarantine and risk the virus or remain at home and risk social isolation.

Just having someone to talk to can be a lifesaver.

Thomas Teague is from Chesterfield Township. The former carpenter doesn't get out as much as he used to and he's recovering from a recent surgery.

"This is my second surgery on it. The first one they took a bone out," said Teague.

Teague is getting a helping hand from college students called Papa Pals. The company pairs older adults and families with pals for companionship and assistance with everyday tasks – everything from lawn mowing to groceries to light chores.

"And if I need a ride to the drugstore or something like that, they were available," said Teague.

But the conversations between pals and clients at risk for social isolation is the key.

"They're great people. I love talking to them," said Teague. "You know we share a bond."

For Thomas, Papa Pals fills the gap when family isn't around. But for those with little or no support, Papa can be their only link to the outside.

During the pandemic, pals are checking in virtually. Meredith Jones says she knows her phone and video call make a difference.

"We're basically that companion for them," said Meredith Jones with Papa Pals. "Their family in the time, where they're not able to, you know, be in person with their family."

According to the National Institute of Health, social isolation increases the risk of death from all causes.

And that's why Teague's insurer – Priority Health – contracted with Papa in January. It's good business and good healthcare.

"That's directly linked to increased health risks like cancer, depression, diabetes and even suicide. So you know this is all in an effort to prevent that," said Tami Hibbits with Priority Health.

Papa is available to health plans, employers and consumers. Thomas says he's getting a lot out of the program and says others could too.

So here's the Rebound rundown:

  • Social isolation among seniors is a serious health risk.
  • It's even worse during the pandemic
  • That risk is lowered by visits, conversation and companionship
  • There are resources like papa are available to help fill the gap if family is not around

All of the Papa Pals go through a background and identification check before they are hired, which makes perfect sense since they're caring for some of our most vulnerable.