Matching young and old
Despite technology’s ability to connect us like never before, loneliness is on the rise. A US survey last year found that almost half those polled felt sometimes or almost always lonely. Those most isolated, the survey revealed, were young adults aged 18 to 22. The other demographic most affected by loneliness is those aged 75 plus.
Devised by business students Joy Zhang and Madeline Dangerfield-Cha, Mon Ami connects college students in California‘s Bay Area with local seniors. “My grandmother is my best friend, so hanging out with older people and being a companion has come really naturally to both of us, and we were thinking of ways to alleviate the stress, pain and guilt that we were hearing from people with loved ones — especially dealing with dementia,” Dangerfield-Cha told MobiHealthNews. And it’s not just the oldies who benefit from the matchups. “For college students, they are living alone and away from families and missing grandparents and caring experience,” Dangerfield-Cha says. “This can also be part of professional development if they are pre-med, pre-social work.”
College students can apply to become an “activity companion” through the Mon Ami website and are matched with a senior through shared interests and language. Caregivers pay a $US25 per hour fee of which the students receive US$20. But, as the Mon Ami website explains: “Being a companion is more than a part-time job — it is a meaningful experience” that provides “rewarding work that contributes to your community”.
As The Guardian reports, since the app’s launch, more than 500 Bay Area college students have become “connective tissue” for more than 250 seniors. Jacob Choi, 29, and Sandra Church, 82, are one such pairing. Choi’s visits, says Church, are a “godsend”. As for Choi, he views Mon Ami as a “good opportunity to use technology to give back”.
Twenty-one-year-old student Marck Rakotoson is companion to 85-year-old former professor Carlos Watson, who often recounts stories from America’s civil rights movement. “I love talking to seniors,” Rakotoson says. “I think they have a lot of wisdom to share.”
Through their visits, says Dangerfield-Cha, the companions can help lift a lot of the emotional weight carried by loved ones and caregivers. “There are a myriad of ways to ensure physical safety and care for ageing loved ones, but what’s hardest to provide is everything that makes us human: joy, connection, meaning and enrichment. That’s what Mon Ami does best.”
ABOVE Marck Rakotoson (left) visits with Pat Hubbard at the BridgePoint senior living facility in Los Altos, California