The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has led to a sharp increase in unemployment across the US, and the newly jobless are scrambling to find lockdown-proof income. One industry that’s experiencing a surge of interest is a new field: “Grandkids On-Demand.” These companies, aiming to battle the effects of loneliness in the elderly, pair employees up with older customers who can use a little companionship — something the medical community is starting to recognize as vitally important to their health.
How It Works
“Grandkids On-Demand” services have existed since before the COVID-19 outbreak. Businesses like Papa and Mon Ami, which pair seniors with companions and helpers, were founded in 2016 and 2018, respectively. Both companies aim to connect seniors with limited social and familial support to workers who can help out. Each company’s website stresses on its workers are not professional caregivers, and are not expected to perform medical services related to hygiene or drug administration.
Instead, employees of these services might help seniors around the house, or drive them on errands and doctor visits. Perhaps most importantly, workers provide company for their elderly companions, giving them someone to confide in or just hang out with.
According to The New York Times, Papa employees or “Papa Pals” can earn between $11 and $14 an hour for their companionship services. Meanwhile, a page on the Mon Ami website says their companions can make $20 per hour in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“Grandkids on Demand” During COVID-19
The economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have caused a surge in interest from potential on-demand grandkids. The New York Times reports that a volunteer phone bank set up by Mon Ami in response to the crisis received 300 volunteers within a few days of going live.
Meanwhile, Home Health Care News reports that Papa is experiencing increased interest from healthcare providers. “It’s been pretty significant for us,” CEO Andrew Parker told the outlet. “Both our [current] health plan partners and new health plans have been reaching out to us to offer Papa as a benefit to their members.”
Of course, social distancing measures have prompted both companies to modify the services they provide. For Mon Ami, this has meant restricting visits to telephone calls and other remote services. In addition, errand runs are now no-contact, with companions leaving items at the front door to minimize the risk of exposure to seniors. The New York Times reports that Papa has adopted similar guidelines.
A Vital Service for Seniors
Recent studies have demonstrated the importance of companionship to the health of seniors. A report this year from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine examined the link between social isolation and physical health. The study found a 50% increased risk of dementia, a 29% increased risk of heart disease, and a 32% increased risk of stroke associated with isolation.
Moreover, a 2018 AARP (an organization for people over age 50) survey revealed that one in three adults 45 and up in the US feel lonely.
“Loneliness, especially as it relates to social isolation factors, has very real consequences for people’s health,” AARP President Lisa March Ryerson said on the foundation’s website. “Studies show that isolation and loneliness are as bad for health as obesity or smoking. This survey’s results send a clear signal that we need to direct more attention and resources to this complex and growing public health issue.”