Senior Companion Stories
I feel that the Senior Companion Program (SCP) is a two-sided procedure. Naturally the primary purpose is to help those who need assistance, those who are cooped up indoors or even unable to drive. I certainly look forward to seeing my SCP clients and I know they look forward to seeing me.
But, how has SCP changed my life? A great deal. Prior to becoming a Senior Companion volunteer, I sat in the living room and stared out the window. I had no incentive to do much of anything. Life was a drag.
Now I am busy three and four days a week. I look forward to seeing each of my clients. I feel useful and needed, whether it is just sitting there chatting, playing games, eating out, or taking them to the doctors.
Each client is different, each has a different need, and I am flexible enough to adjust to their needs. I learn new games, listen to their problems, and reminisce. I have empathy with their medical situations and adjust to their mental capabilities. It is a wonderful feeling to relate to others. It gives a general sense of satisfaction, takes ones mind off their own problems, and gives us older people something to look forward to.
Instead of sitting home “retired,” I am out doing something useful. I think that the SCP has helped me as much as my clients.
— A Senior Companion
I visit an elderly gentleman I’ll call Bill, who is in his 80’s. He’s blind, wheel chair bound, and mentally handicapped. Even his conversation is limited to a few words. When I first visited him, he was very quiet, I would have to start talking, and he would answer briefly with only a few words. Bill enjoys talking, going outside in the wheel chair to a small park, and listening to country music.
Special music activities occur weekly, when guests come to play guitars or sing karaoke. I decided to expose Bill to even more music. Bill was not sure he wanted to participate! I wheeled Bill out to the day room and sat beside him. Bill always waits for me to start singing a tune first, then he joins right in, singing very enthusiastically!
Bill has become more attentive to me. The other day during a quiet moment, he reached over to make sure I was still beside him. I told him I was there, and Bill said, “I like it when you visit me!” A week later, after another music session, I told Bill I would be seeing him later on. Bill said, “I love you.” I asked, “What did you say?” And he repeated the words. This is the first time he had expressed emotion. I thought I was going to cry, but left before I did. Nobody goes to see Bill, and he evidently appreciates me coming there. Those words had to come from the heart! I feel very proud that I’m making a difference in his life.
If I stopped working for the Senior Companion Program, I would still go visit Bill. If he thinks this much of me to express such feeling, I could never disappoint him by not going.
Before I started the program, I was bored and felt useless. Now I have found a purpose in life. I have something to look forward to with new friends and seniors to visit. The program increases the number of people I meet.
There are other parts of the program that I like also. The workshops are fun and informational, and we can be ourselves. The volunteers are a fun group and help in talking over issues for which someone may have an answer. And every two weeks, I have some spending money to use for just me. The money allows me to go to a dance, eat out, or buy a new blouse. I couldn’t do these things otherwise.
I also enjoy taking other folks, who are also developmentally delayed, for a walk, and have one who is our leader. Even though he is in a wheelchair, he leads, deciding which route we will travel. Being in front of the line is important him. This is the first time this senior has ever been in charge of anything, and leading is important.
— A Senior Companion
When speaking with this Senior Companion, I could see tears and pride in her eyes as she related this story. She was very proud of the accomplishments, for she makes a difference now. She understands that she matters! The success is what one person does for another – and in this case, who was the greatest recipient?
— Gene L. Tobey, former Senior Companion Program Coordinator, Somerset and Kennebec Counties
Irene Diffin is an 89-year-old widow from North Perry, Maine. She has been a Senior Companion in Washington County, one of Maine’s most isolated geographic regions, for twenty-nine years. Over that time, she has visited with over fifty different clients.
According to Irene, “Loneliness is a real downer. Just having someone coming in and being interested in them, being a friend and companion can make a big difference. One of my clients put her arms around me when I was leaving and said, ‘you just don’t know how much it means to me to have you coming in. I wouldn’t be able to stay in my own home without you. It makes such a difference in my life.’ We visit and talk a lot and have been playing games lately. I take her to doctor’s appointments and we usually have lunch out when we go, and she enjoys that very much. I also help her with her shopping and getting her medicine at the drug store and paying her bills. She has a family, but they are all very busy, all working. They are very appreciative of me and the Senior Companion Program. One day my friend had a bad spell while I was there. I tried to convince her that she should have a Lifeline, so that if she fell someone would come right away. She said she couldn’t afford one. I called her son later and told him. He called me later that week and told me that it was all taken care of and his mother now had a Lifeline. He thanked me and said it eased his mind to know that she could get help if she needed it.”
Irene has a strong bond with her clients and can empathize with their needs. She says, “Well, you get to love those people…really care for them. And know how they feel, being lonely and alone. One of my clients was saying, ‘Now this past weekend my daughter and them went fishing, so they weren’t around the weekend to talk.’ So she said to me, ‘You have any company this weekend?’ And I said, ‘No. No I didn’t, I didn’t see a soul from Friday night to Monday morning.’ She said, ‘Now you know what it is like, don’t you?’ I said, “Yeah, that’s why I come to visit you.’”
Irene believes that the Senior Companion Program has helped her as much as her clients. It gives her a sense of worth, a reason to get up in the morning. She says, “There is such a need out there, and I am glad that I am able to help keep my clients going and help them maintain their independence.”
— Deb Eckart, Senior Companion Program, Cooperative Extension, University of Maine