Mitch Besser has developed a simple way to help older people feel less lonely. His AgeWell Global organization links up people over 50 years old to help look after other older adults who need support. He calls it peer-to-peer eldercare.
“I go to fairs and people talk about virtual friends, small robots, or kitties on laptops. These technlogies are at best second best. People just want companionship,” he says.
The AgeWells visit their peers at home, asking simple questions like whether they are eating properly or are walking without getting out of breath. They feed the data into an algorithm that triggers a referral to a doctor or hospital if necessary. By offering an early warning system for incipient health problems, Besser says peer-to-peer services can save health plans and hospital systems billions. Plus, the visiting AgeWells, who are paid, feel better about themselves, too. “They effectively make the minimum wage, and they’re doing something more dignified than packing grocery bags. They have social engagement,” Besser says.
Agewell grew out a successful program in South Africa for mothers with HIV. Since launching in the U.S. in 2016, it’s been rolled out in New York City, Cleveland, and Florida, with more destinations planned.