Seniors helping seniors: Companion program is a low-cost way to keep elders independent

2011-09-22T00:00:00Z Seniors helping seniors: Companion program is a low-cost way to keep elders independentFran Coleman Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Ramiro is a 66-year-old veteran who lives on the Pascua Yaqui Nation on Tucson's southwest side. He spends up to 30 hours each week helping frail elders in his community with the daily living tasks that have become difficult or impossible to do alone.

He takes his clients to the tribe's senior center for meals, accompanies them to medical appointments, and has helped them enroll in various services to which they are entitled.

By increasing their interaction with others, their activity level, their access to services and even their nutrition, this help may ultimately prevent Ramiro's clients from having to give up independent living and enter an expensive nursing facility.

Shirley, a 77-year-old widow, helps people at a nonprofit senior community in Tucson. One of her clients was doing poorly in independent living, mostly because of memory loss. Her apartment was cluttered, medical appointments were forgotten and bills were not paid. Shirley helped her get organized and now accompanies her to appointments and meals. With Shirley's intervention, her client does not have to be moved to assisted living.

Their clients are grateful, but Ramiro and Shirley would say they get the better part of the deal. Being of service to others gives them a reason to get up every day.

Ramiro and Shirley are Senior Companions, just two of 44 volunteers in Tucson who give more than 46,000 hours of service each year to help keep other seniors living independently, inexpensively and at home.

Sponsored by Senior Corps, the federal Senior Companion program has been quietly at work in communities across the country since 1972. The program, administered locally by Our Family Services since 2001, fills a critical need for low-income, frail elders in cities and towns across the United States. As Congress struggles to trim the federal budget, it would be penny-wise and pound-foolish to eliminate a program that delivers so much to so many for so little.

The Senior Companion program is one of the best examples of federal dollars well-spent. It costs just $7 to provide one hour of Senior Companion service. (This includes training, mileage, insurance, etc.)

Compare this to the cost of private in-home care, which can run anywhere from $15 to $25 per hour. Senior Companion services are free to frail, low-income seniors, run by local nonprofits with whom we partner.

The Senior Companion program isn't just a win-win - it's a triple win for senior volunteers, for frail elders, and for financially stressed communities everywhere looking for cost-effective ways to care for their aging populations.

Fran Coleman is manager of the Senior Companion Program at Our Family Services. For information on becoming a Senior Companion, go online to www.ourfamilyservices.org or call 323-1708, Ext. 240.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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