In 2006, a handful of low-income senior
citizens in Maine volunteered their time to help 53 of their peers ages
90 and older continue to live independently, in their homes, rather than
in long-term care facilities.
The estimated cost saving to the state by the
University of Maine Cooperative Extension Senior Companion Program that
year was more than $4.2 million.
"This is a subset of the Senior Companion Program
participants who are at high risk and would likely have to have
long-term assistance if not for this program," says Jim McConnon, an
Extension business and economics specialist and professor in the UMaine
School of Economics. "Associated costs would likely be borne by the
individuals (or their families), or the state, or some combination of
These cost savings are just part of the overall
benefits of the Senior Companion Program, McConnon says. "Looked at
comprehensively, there are additional cost savings associated with other
program participants less at risk, but needing some sort of care. This
study helps quantify the economic impact of one of Cooperative
Extension's many programs."
McConnon and three coauthors — Todd Gabe , an
associate professor in the UMaine School of Economics, and Debra Eckart
and Ann Swain with Extension's Senior Companion Program — recently
released an economic impact study that shows that, for 26 years, the
Senior Companion Program has offered a cost-effective solution to help
Maine's older adults remain in their homes instead of moving into costly
That's particularly pertinent in Maine, where an
estimated 14 percent of residents are now age 65 and older, according to
the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2025, more than 20 percent of the state's
population will be senior citizens.
The program links limited-income volunteers ages 60
and older with peers in their community who are homebound or isolated.
The Senior Companions provide friendship and nonmedical support — from
running errands and helping with home management to providing advocacy.
Extension staff provide monthly professional
development training for the volunteers, including information on
nutrition and wellness, eldercare, consumer fraud and emergency
preparedness. Through the program, Senior Companions also receive small
stipends, helping them, in turn, remain active and maintain their
quality of life.
"The program makes a huge difference because it
helps people maintain their independence, staying in their own homes and
continuing their lives in their own communities, where their connections
are," says Eckart, an Extension educator in Washington County. "It
really works well in small, rural communities where people want to take
care of their own. The home visitations are peer to peer, like having a
friend coming to help out."
In the past quarter-century, an estimated 426 Senior
Companions have helped meet the needs of more than 12, 550 elders in
Maine communities. In 2006, the year on which the UMaine researchers
focused their findings, 105 Senior Companions served 501 clients
statewide, volunteering a total of 82,260 hours.
The program's statewide operating budget that year
was approximately $560,000 in federal and state funding, and
contributions from local nonprofit organizations.
According to the study, approximately 10 percent of
the clients that year would likely have lived in long-term care
facilities if they were not receiving assistance through the Senior
Companion Program. The estimated nursing home cost savings for the 53
clients participating in the program that year were $4.2 million.
"The numbers indicate that by investing in a program
like this, we can save a lot of money and provide a better quality of
life for people," Eckart says.
UMaine Today Magazine
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