TeleHealth Buddies: Supporting Seniors with Chronic Disease
Before COVID-19 we launched Health Buddies to reduce preventable hospital readmissions for at-risk elders struggling with chronic disease. Hospital readmissions are very expensive, accounting for $15 billion in annual health care spending. Many who returned to the emergency room before COVID-19 did so because they lacked family support. The hospital represented a safe solution – their only contact with the outside. The decision to go back to the hospital was most likely not a conscious one. Studies show that chronic loneliness can take a very real and very physical toll. It can cause elevated levels of stress, which in turn can increase pain and other symptoms. Health Buddies were trained to provide the same kind of support as a family member or friend, providing a combination of in-home companionship and phone calls, with information intended to help clients self-manage their health.
Now that social distancing prevents Health Buddies from visiting clients at home, we’ve shifted to TeleHealth Buddies, providing elders with the same service entirely by phone. Now the hospital is no longer the safe haven that it once was for elders. This plus the surge in demand for telemedicine means that many who call just because they’re alone or afraid will not receive the support they need. Now even those who do have family are feeling isolated, resulting in new/exacerbated symptoms.
Now, more than ever, elders living with chronic disease need a friend. For many, their TeleHealth Buddy’s voice will be the only one they hear all day. Regular calls from a TeleHealth Buddy tell socially isolated clients: “You have a friend who cares.” Volunteers ask considerate questions, check on client’s well-being, and receive trainings to help clients learn to self-manage their chronic disease. And intake assessments performed by our dedicated program staff result in TelePair matches with testimonials like this, as they face the challenges of COVID-19 together:
“Ms. J and I made an immediate connection. How in the world did they get it so right? We have so much in common that it is almost mystical. We are in the same age group; we have very common childhood experiences and memories. We have many life experiences that parallel each other—marriages, children, food preparation, household chores/challenges, etc. On top of all of that, we are both extremely “expressive!” We could not have gotten a better match. I feel like I have found a “family member”. Thank you for matching me with this lovely lady. I feel like this connection will last forever. That is how well we have meshed. Yours in the struggle. . . “
Visit https://seniorsinservice.org/telehealth-buddies to learn more about how to help socially isolated elders self-manage their health and age in place, with dignity.