Meet Sue and Brianna: Work, then Play, Makes For a Very Good Day

Facing multiple health challenges and a major life change, Papa member Sue has found motivation, comfort, and a friend in Papa Pal Brianna.

Working together with her Papa Pal Brianna to tackle daunting tasks, then taking time to unwind and connect, has done wonders for Sue’s mental health and well-being.

Meet Papa Member Sue

Sue has faced more than her fair share of health issues—the onset of dementia, a concussion followed by back problems, a persistent cough, two root canals, and now, skin cancer. Any one of these things would be challenging on their own, but to have to deal with them all at once is almost too much to handle—especially on your own.  

Thankfully, Sue was able to move in with her son and his family, but as a result, her living and storage space has been drastically reduced. Sue was faced with the monumental task of going through all of her belongings and downsizing. Due to her health issues—both mental and physical—she was completely overwhelmed.

“With my dementia and back problems, I can no longer do things like I used to,” she says. She was in desperate need of some motivation and support. She heard about Papa through a friend and decided to give it a shot.

That’s when she met Brianna. It didn’t take long for them to realize they were a perfect fit for each other. 

Meet Papa Pal Brianna

Brianna grew up in a big family—she’s one of 10 siblings—so she’s used to being around people. From there, she spent years working as a nanny and now has children of her own. Brianna was looking for work recently, and her father, who works in Medicare at a regional health plan, suggested she would be a great Papa Pal because she’s wonderful with people.

Most of Brianna’s work has been with children, so she was nervous about working with people on the opposite end of the age spectrum. But Brianna was happy to discover that her experience with kids translated well. “It’s amazing to bring that caring I can give into another generation and know I can make a difference,” she says. Brianna has found joy and value in learning from people with more years and experience under their belts. She believes that, as a society, we should do a lot more “generational mixing” because it would benefit all of us.

“It took me a couple of visits to find members who would become my regulars,” she says, “but once I did, I fell in love with them.”

A little motivation goes a long way

Sue and Brianna say they hit it off immediately. “The first time I went to Sue’s house,” Brianna says, “she sat me down on the couch and started telling me about herself right away. She’s super open and fun to hang out with.” 

With Sue’s onset of dementia, plus last year’s concussion, her doctors have emphasized the importance of having a routine. Together, she and Brianna have spent the summer going through all of her belongings, organizing and condensing them, and moving onto different sections once they've finished. 

“I love how fast and hard Brianna works,” Sue says. “She’s like a volcano. And an amazing organizer."

Brianna loves to organize, and her enthusiasm makes the hour go by fast for Sue. Brianna helps her toss or donate things she doesn’t need and find a place for what she wants to keep. At the end of the hour, they’re both pretty tired, so the second hour of their visit is all about fun.

They love to play games and do puzzles. They take walks. They float in the pool. Sometimes they just sit and chat. That hour of play is like a sweet reward for a job well done, giving both of them a sense of accomplishment and joy.

Two lives changed

Brianna has witnessed a remarkable difference in Sue since their first visits when she was feeling pretty down about her limitations. “She’s doing a lot better,” Brianna says. “Just having me there to listen and be there has been really helpful for Sue. She’s rejoined some of her friend groups since we’ve hung out, and I can tell she’s a lot more positive now.”

Sue says she used to be embarrassed about her disability, but now she doesn’t care what people think. “I have a friend to look forward to once a week,” she says. “My short-term memory loss has been really bad lately, but Brianna understands. She’s so perfect for me.”

Brianna feels the same way about Sue and says, “There are tons of things I learn from her, and she’s helped me as well.”

Brianna has come to realize how much better our world would be if more people would care for and spend time with older adults. “The older generation helped to build our whole society and they deserve to be cared for,” she says, “just like we would want to be when we get to that age.”

Like Brianna, many of our Papa Pals discover that offering companionship enriches their own lives as well.