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Since 1974, the Senior Companion Program of Allegheny County has been recruiting seniors age 60 and older of low income to visit other seniors to help dispel loneliness and provide friendship as they try to age in place.

With over 110 senior companions serving nearly 600 seniors on a weekly basis, this Allegheny County Department of Human Services Area Agency on Aging (DHS AAA) program is one of the largest of over 240 programs across the country. Allegheny County is one of six counties in the state that has such a program. Last year, senior companions in Allegheny County provided about 115,000 hours of service.

The Senior Companion Program addresses the human needs for social integration and it combats the risk of social isolation, something from which frail seniors can be particularly at risk. People who maintain extensive social contacts, engage in physical activity, or pursue emotionally and intellectually stimulating activities, age more successfully than those who don’t.

Senior companions, who are 60 years old and older, fill the role of a friend for those seniors who need companionship. Since this is a free program, seniors who are looking for a companion have only two requirements to meet to be eligible: they need to be at least age 60 and need someone to visit them.

The senior companion volunteer also has to be at least age 60 and to be of low income (125 percent of the poverty level). To become a companion, a senior would need to fill out an application and be interviewed at the ACAAA and at one of the station supervisors in various communities around the county. The program is coordinated from a number of neighborhood stations throughout the county. Companions are assigned to clients by geographic area by one of these stations.

A senior companion is expected to volunteer at least 15 hours per week to a maximum 40 hours per week. They usually see the same 3-to-5 clients weekly. Some of the typical tasks they perform is reading to their client; watching television with them; accompanying them to a doctor’s visit or to a social meeting at a senior center; doing some light housework such as picking up papers and straightening up their rooms; making them a light lunch or breakfast; and giving them advice on proper nutrition and other subjects.

Most importantly, the companion also acts as an advocate. Companions attend regular training sessions 10 months a year on various subjects that affect seniors and will bring this information to their clients.

Senior companions fill the role of a friend and advocate. They look out for the seniors they are visiting each week. But the program also benefits the companion as well because it gets them out of the house and gives them the feeling of being valuable. It’s a wonderful service they provide.

The role of a friend allows for reciprocity, and each person in the friendship can be both a giver and receiver. Living alone and having few non-kin supports are risk factors for nursing home placement. So in addition to providing friendship and socialization, senior companion visits can result in clients delaying their decision to go to a personal care or nursing homes, and allow them to live at home independently a lot longer.

For more information about the Senior Companion Program, please contact the SeniorLine at 412-350-5460.

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