Aging in place can create isolation and loneliness for seniors, but startups such as Papa and Silvernest are working in an effort to combat these complex problems. They are eager to interface with home health providers in more meaningful ways, and are planning to do so in the near future.
Silvernest is a home sharing app, similar in some ways to Airbnb, that pairs older adults with roommates. Through Papa, college students provide in-home services to seniors. Both these companies believe that they can help mitigate loneliness and isolation, which can compromise older adults’ health and wellbeing in serious ways.
“Social isolation has the potential negative consequences on health equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” Majd Alwan, senior vice president of technology at Leading Age and executive director of the Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST), told Home Health Care News.
Washington, D.C.-based LeadingAge is a trade association representing 6,000 providers that work in aging, mostly nonprofits. CAST is an international coalition of 400 technology companies, aging services organizations, research universities and government representatives, working to develop, evaluate and adopt technologies to improve the aging experience.
Silvernest and Papa have focused specifically on the potential to forge partnerships with the health care and in-home care industries, showcasing their business models to providers and pushing further into the sector.
Living with aging
There are a lot of empty bedrooms out there, which is partially what sparked the creation of Silvernest, Wendi Burkhardt, CEO and co-founder of the company, told HHCN.
Denver-based Silvernest is a home-sharing startup that was founded in 2015. The company offers a platform that pairs homeowners with roommates. Homeowners pay a fee when ready to communicate with their matches. The fee covers 60 days of communication with those potential roommates. Silvernest currently has nearly 50,000 users and listings in all 50 states.
Older adults who are wishing to age in place and faced with rising living costs are beginning to participate and notice the value of the sharing economy by using what are typically their biggest assets, their homes, to generate extra income, Burkhardt said.
Silvernest is exploring possible partnerships with in-home care providers.
“We believe there is an interesting opportunity to partner with home health agencies to create a win-win on both sides,” Burkhardt said. “We are currently exploring collaborative partnerships with several home health agencies and look forward to sharing more details in the coming months.”
Major home care companies such as Home Instead acknowledge that there is not a single type of home environment that is best for all seniors.
“As our population ages, it is going to take a variety of living environments and creative solutions to support older adults on their aging journey,” Lakelyn Hogan, a gerontologist and caregiver advocate at Home Instead, said in an email to HHCN. “It is important for families to have conversations with the older adult about the living environment that best fits their needs.”
Nebraska-based Home Instead is an in-home care network that provides personalized care, support and education to help aging adults. The franchisor has over 1,300 locations providing over 70 million hours of care throughout the United States and 11 other countries.
Finding friends, help where you can
Miami-based Papa is a startup that utilizes “grandkids on demand” to offer seniors services such as transportation, meeting household needs and companionship. Papa employs college students, known as Papa Pals, as the caregivers that perform the services. The company uses a strict on-boarding process to make sure the students are empathetic, patient and trustworthy.
Many Americans experience feelings of loneliness but younger generations are reportedly lonelier than any other, according to the 2018 U.S. Loneliness Index from Cigna.
“Our goal is to cure loneliness; we find that companionship is this broad concept but when you [join] these two generations there is a natural connectivity that’s occurring,” Andrew Parker, founder and CEO at Papa, told HHCN.
The average loneliness score for Generation Z is 48.3 while the score for Boomers is 42.4, according to the index. Loneliness is measured by a 20-item questionnaire developed by UCLA to assess feelings of social isolation and loneliness. Loneliness is identified by a score of 43 or higher, with higher scores meaning higher levels of loneliness.
Papa is in the process of expanding from Florida to Pittsburgh and has plans to expand to additional locations in the U.S. throughout next year.
Currently, Papa works more locally in terms of partnerships with in-home care agencies, but it has bigger partnerships planned, Parker said.
“[Partnerships] are across the board,” said Parker. “But most of the partnerships, in terms of expansion, will be with health [insurance] plans. [Partnerships are] based on opportunities to bring our services to customers but it doesn’t have to be one type of organization—home care companies, home health companies, hospital systems and senior living facilities [are all in the mix].”
Age in the future
As more people age, the future of the in-home care industry may be technology-forward in order to ease the workload of home health nurses and home care aides.
“Such applications [like Silvernest and Papa], if embraced and adopted at scale, can be a game changer—turning technology from a ‘need’ into a ‘want’ for older adults,” Alwan said.
However, as startups begin to notice opportunities to grow into the home health space, it is necessary to recognize the differences between older adults and other users, and occasionally make small changes to overall user experience.
“[Startups] should know that older adults can and will use technology for socialization and entertainment, but the technology must be made intuitive and easy to use,” Alwan said. “Technology can support continued communication between older adult, their family and can help maintain and even expand social network through digital social connectedness.”
Creating a new circle for an older adult does not have a clear solution but an important aspect of the problem is knowing how to define it.
“It is important to make the differentiation between isolation and loneliness,” Hogan said. “Isolation is when a person does not have enough people to interact with, and loneliness is distress over not having enough social relationships or not enough contact with people. Someone can be isolated but still feel very connected and someone who is well connected can still feel lonely.”
Written by Kaitlyn Mattson