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Peer care program shows positive effects in South Africa

November 12, 2014

You often hear about the aging population here in the U.S. as baby boomers are reaching retirement in greater numbers than younger generations are entering the workforce. However, a similar situation is unfolding in South Africa.

A company called AgeWell Global implemented a peer-to-peer care service for seniors in Cape Town, South Africa, where healthy older people provide assistance for others in their generation with home visits. The program to support a healthy lifestyle for seniors may be coming to the U.S., so read on to find out what it's all about.

How does it work?
The Cape Town pilot program was launched in 2013 by Joy Zhang, a U.S. native who moved there for AgeWell Global. Investors from the U.S. provided the funds for the program, and the company told the Daily Maverick that they hope donations will increase as they compile data from the recently ended trial period. 

According to the company's website, the AgeWells, as the caregivers are called, complete a four-week training course to effectively care for other seniors. The employees don't dole out medical advice or do chores, but rather serve as a companion and guardian of sorts. The Daily Maverick explained that AgeWells use their company-provided smartphones to log answers to 20 questions and 20 observations about their clients. If anything seems out of sorts, AgeWells can refer clients to medical or social services.

This peer-to-peer program was modeled after a similar initiative in other parts of Africa called mothers2mothers, according to AgeWell Global's site, which is used to prevent the spread of HIV. 

Who benefits from this care model?
The effects of this type of preventive and social care can be far-reaching as the program spreads to more regions. AgeWells and their clients are the most obvious recipients of the benefits, as they're able to enjoy companionship and conversation within their generation. Caregivers are delighted to make a decent wage - sometimes for the first time, according to the Daily Maverick - plus learn new skills and become adept with smartphones. Clients benefit because medical issues may be observed earlier, which can reduce the severity of the illness in most cases.

However, society overall can be improved in the long term, as less strain is put on the healthcare system. There isn't a report summarizing the whole pilot yet, but the AgeWell website described favorable results that show this as one of many potential senior living options. The Daily Maverick explained that the program will begin in the U.S. if the data shows it was successful in Cape Town.