In times gone by, the friendly local postman played an integral role in the community. But nowadays, as we switch to a more digital style of correspondence, postal workers pay fewer visits to our homes, and this means that for many elderly people, they have lost their one chance to have a chat with someone in the day — an issue that has been especially heightened in rural areas as friends and family members move away from home for job opportunities. So La Poste, the French public postal service, is addressing this issue — quite literally — by offering a new type of service to its customers.
Now, concerned relatives can subscribe to La Poste’s “Watch Over My Parents” program, where a postal worker goes and checks up on an elderly family member while they’re out doing their deliveries. For the cost of around $22 a month, a postal worker will pop in and check up on the relative and deliver a report to the family. Various options are available for the families, who can opt for weekly or more frequent visits, with the opportunity to sign up for an alarm system and helpline 24/7.
While it’s sad that society has changed to the extent that we have to pay people to watch over the elderly, the service, which has more than 6,000 subscribers, is proving popular among its customers. Armed with a list of questions to help get the conversation rolling, the postal workers get to know their elderly clients over their 15-minute chats, and over time there is often a mutual sharing of information.
One satisfied customer, Janine, was convinced to use the service by her two daughters who live 370 miles away in the Paris. “They worry that I’m on my own in the middle of nowhere,” she says. Yet, the service also offers peace of mind for the elderly client too: “I used to boast I never went to the doctor, but then I had a fall recently. I feel more secure this way,” Janine reported to The Guardian.
Interestingly, statistics show that in 1990, 70 percent of La Poste’s turnover relied on letter delivery, whereas this is set to drop to less than 20 percent in the next couple of years. With fewer postal workers out doing their rounds, the need for this type of service will surely grow. As Eric Baudrillard, head of developing new strategy for the French postal service reminds us: “People are living longer, and more of them want to stay in their own homes as long as they can. We know there will be more need for social links like this as mobility grows and adult children move far from their aging parents. Despite all the digital tools that we have, there is still a need for human connection.”
This is far from the ideal solution for an aging society, but it does allow these isolated seniors to have that precious human contact. Perhaps what we should be learning from this service is our responsibility, as both citizens and Christians, to look out for those who may be isolated in our own communities. While they may not be our own relatives, we’re pretty sure that they’d appreciate the occasional visit and a chat over a cup of tea. And who knows, they may even impart a few precious pearls of wisdom.
Watch how this 96-year-old woman is helping to end loneliness among the elderly (VIDEO)