|A CareRing volunteer makes a friendly phone call to a senior. [PRS Inc.]|
Older adults still capable of living independently can feel socially isolated and depressed.
A new program launched by PRS Inc. in January called CareRing aims to help by arranging for volunteers to call older residents living alone regularly just to chat –and to provide some emotional and social support.
“I talk to people about their pets. One man has a really great dog and told me about taking his dog to a pet baptism at his church,” says Mary, a volunteer with CareRing.
“We recognize many older adults don’t necessarily need services like assisted living, but do need some support,” says Laura Mayer, the director of CareRing at PRS. The new program is actually called CareRing 2.0 because it builds on a smaller, more limited program.
“Finding ways to connect with older adults is important for their quality of life,” says PRS CEO Wendy Gradison. “CareRing is an affordable and proven way to reduce isolation” and to help people age in place.
Participants must be Fairfax County residents over 60 and must the have the ability to take phone calls. PRS is seeking about 35 more clients through the end of June and will be able to add 50 more after that. The program is free.
During the first phone call, volunteers do a quick assessment – to determine whether the person is depressed, suicidal, feeling isolated, or at risk for abuse or neglect, and asks about their physical well-being and financial security, Mayer says. If there is a problem, PRS follows up by referring them or their relatives to the appropriate resources.
After that, the calls, usually about 10 to 15 minutes, are social, although volunteers do offer helpful advice, like reminding client to take their medications. Clients can decide if they want to be called every day or a few times a week.
Volunteers are trained in how to start a conversation. They ask clients about their interests, how they can get more involved in their community, their opinions on the news, their careers, and meaningful events in their lives.
Often, clients stick to superficial topics, like what’s going on that day, Mayer says, but they sometimes get into more challenging conversations about their grief at losing someone close, the complications of aging, or their complex relationships with adult children.
“People share more information when it feels anonymous,” she says. “They have no idea how old we are, so there are fewer barriers to communication.”
Because she never sees them in person, Mary says, has no idea what they look like, so there’s none of that judging based on first impressions.
If a client doesn’t answer after three attempts to call, PRS contacts a relative or asks the police to drop by for a welfare check.