Holidays will look a lot different this year. In fact, half of seniors over the age of 70 don’t even plan to see family for Thanksgiving, according to a recent survey conducted by Aloe Care Health.

With more families staying apart, home-based care providers are gearing up to make seniors feel as comfortable and connected as possible. And most of them bring years of companionship experience to the table, as senior isolation has long been a major problem in the U.S.

“This year with the pandemic, we’re more concerned than ever,” Charlie Young, the CEO of Synergy HomeCare Franchising, told Home Health Care News. “The holidays are typically a time where we see an uptick in inquiries into Synergy HomeCare. That’s because adult children usually spend more prolonged time with their loved ones during this time, and they notice things.”

Often, seniors may have problems with their health or activities of daily living (ADLs) that go unnoticed until the family comes around. With families opting to stay home this year, that concern won’t go away, but instead manifests from miles away.

Home care providers like Synergy are adapting to help.

“It stands to reason that we would get an uptick in inquiries coming out of the holidays,” Young said. “So we just thought we would do our best to arm people with some knowledge and information as they look at doing the holidays in a different way this year.”

Gilbert, Arizona-based Synergy HomeCare is a non-medical home care franchise that offers companionship, personal assistance, housekeeping and live-in care services across 365 locations nationwide.

Additional statistics reinforce just how isolated families are in 2020: Air travel is down about 60% this year compared to last, with car travel likewise expected to be down.

For the millions of Americans that will be unable to gather with their senior loved ones, Synergy is recommending what they call “benevolent probing,” a series of techniques used to observe and inquire about an individual’s well-being.

Synergy is also urging families’ to observe ADLs virtually, through a FaceTime or Zoom call, for instance.

“First and foremost, it’s checking in on physical appearance,” Young said. “Are they shaving? Is their hair combed and well kept? How’s their clothing? How is their hygiene from what you can see? How’s their weight — do they look like they are eating properly?”

For memory, Young recommends that family members talk about current events. If seniors are brushing off questions, that could be a sign things aren’t going well.

Miami-based Papa — the on-demand companionship startup that serves older adults and their families — built a business model around helping seniors socialize. Its “Papa Pals” are what it calls “family on-demand.”

Usually, the Pals visit seniors’ homes and independent living facilities to hang out with lonely seniors. During COVID-19, however, it has pushed virtual engagement to make sure its clients are still having meaningful conversations with others.

Papa has successfully converted most of its seniors from telephone calls to video visits since March, Andrew Parker, the founder and CEO of Papa, told HHCN.

“Seniors are learning how to use technology, and doing that with their Pal as the guide,” Parker said. “And we’re making sure that everyone has somewhere to be or something to do on Thanksgiving.”

Two-thirds of the seniors polled in the Aloe Care Health survey wished they had a simpler technological solution to speak with family members.

One of the biggest priorities of Papa Pals this year has been initiating useful technology into seniors’ lives so they can stay in touch with their Pals, as well as friends and family.

Stepping in to help

Checking in on seniors is the relatively easy part. The hard part is knowing what to do when a senior’s health or cognitive status appears to be in decline, Young said.

“I think that this is one of the most challenging parts, and it starts with a conversation,” Young said. “Where we step in is … a home assessment. A simple phone call to Synergy HomeCare to discuss what you’ve observed can go a long way to give you peace of mind.”

Despite the lack of in-person observation this year, Synergy is still expecting an uptick in business due to holiday engagements — or lack thereof. The company has already noticed an increased interest in home care services, and it thinks that will lead to more indefinite business down the line.

“We typically see a spike in inquiries in the week after Thanksgiving and then leading up into Christmas,” Young said. “And I think this year we might also see a little bit of a bump in business in the first quarter in January.”

Papa is expecting the same.

“I do expect usage to go up this holiday season,” Parker said. “Every holiday our usage goes up more than you would expect. I think this holiday, we’re definitely going to see — and we’re already seeing — trends of increased usage, because people aren’t able to gather as much as they were historically and people aren’t able to talk to family. Or in some cases, that family doesn’t exist.”

Papa is also acting as a conduit to local organizations in seniors’ neighborhoods that could assist with the type of things that Synergy’s “benevolent probing” is aimed at monitoring.

“If people need to get connected to local organizations to support them during this time, we want to help with that, and make sure they’re feeling really good, excited and happy,” Parker said. “It’s the holidays — it’s not time to feel lonely.”

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