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Free app hopes to combat loneliness in Wisconsin’s caregivers

Health care company in northeastern Wisconsin offering new app for unpaid caregivers to find support, connection

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A caregiver helps an elderly person out of a chair
This photo taken Nov. 21, 2013 shows caregiver Warren Manchess helping Paul Gregoline out of a chair, in Noblesville Ind. Darron Cummings/AP Photo

A health care company in northeastern Wisconsin is helping launch a new program to combat loneliness in the state’s caregivers.

Lakeland Care provides managed care for older adults and adults with disabilities in the state’s Medicaid program.

Jen Harrison, Lakeland’s chief program officer, said the company originally contracted with Pyx Health to provide the app to their members after seeing an increase in the number of people experiencing depression in recent years. The program provides a mix of activities and resources to address loneliness within the app, as well as offering users the opportunity to talk with a real person.

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“What we discovered in doing all of this is that the caregivers who are supporting these people were saying, ‘Can I use this program? Is it OK if I sign up?’” Harrison said.

Federal health officials have warned of an epidemic of loneliness in the general population across the country. A U.S. Surgeon General advisory earlier this year warned a lack of social connection can increase the risk for premature death as much as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.

Family and other unpaid caregivers are looked to as individuals who can help prevent loneliness. But Cindy Jordan, founder and CEO of Pyx Health, said they also have unique pressures that can make them feel isolated from others. She said caregivers may be physically separated from friends and social connections, having to stay home with someone who needs physical or medical help. And they can feel like others don’t understand their experience, which is a different kind of mental or emotional isolation.

“They believe that they shouldn’t be complaining or that it sounds like complaining because whomever they’re caring for is much worse off than they are,” she said. “That’s when loneliness can get very, very dangerous for caregivers because you start to believe no one understands your plight. No one can help you. There’s nothing that’s going to make it better.”

This is the loneliness Jordan experienced herself after the death of her stepdaughter, a loss that led her to become a caregiver to her partner and family in a new way. She said her family’s experience is part of what inspired the creation of Pyx Health. The company has created a new version of their app specifically for caregivers and Lakeland Care is the first to launch the new program.

With an estimated 580,000 family caregivers in Wisconsin, Harrison said Lakeland Care decided to not only extend the new resource to caregivers of their members but for anyone in the state of Wisconsin.

“We feel like this is a really cost-effective intervention,” Harrison said. “It’s something that’s a link to another person or an app. Maybe someone’s not ready to admit, especially our male caregivers, that they’re tired, but they’re willing to go on an app and just really get some support or some information in a different, unique way.”

The new program will be available on November 15. Harrison said Lakeland Care will share information on how to sign up online and through organizations already working with caregivers. The company has committed to providing the free resource for at least 18 months.

While she acknowledges an app can’t take the place of human relationship, Harrison said many people already turn to online spaces like social media to find connection.

“Caregivers are only increasing, and the complexities of the system we work in are only increasing,” she said. “So whatever we can do to offload or support a caregiver is a win.”

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