While many older adults are completely comfortable going out and doing things alone, an equal number of people prefer to have company for at least some of the time. For those who have family members who can spend time with them, life can still be very enjoyable, but it’s not always possible to fit adequate visits into your busy daily routine. It’s vital to come up with other ways of providing companionship for the seniors in your life, however, for a number of very good reasons.
What is the importance of companionship for elderly people?
Companionship gives seniors a sense of belonging and a feeling of being accepted as a member or part of something bigger than themselves. This helps people to see value in their lives and creates purpose and a reason for living. For elderly people who are in their sunset years, it’s all too easy to begin feeling as if nobody needs them any longer, and spending a lot of time in isolation contributes to the feeling of being unwanted.
Being in the company of others helps stave off loneliness and gives seniors the chance for social interaction that they might otherwise not get. When we reach a certain age, the kind of social activities we once enjoyed become meaningless. Clubs, parties, and dances are no longer the draw they used to be, but that doesn’t mean anyone is satisfied simply sitting home alone, week after week. Instead, social activities like visits, coffee dates, playing board games, or even watching a film together at home can bring joy to an older person.
Loneliness is one of the most pervasive problems for people who live on their own, and it’s bad for their health. Research shows that even the perception of being socially isolated can cause adverse mental health consequences, such as depression, faster cognitive decline, and an impaired ability to carry out tasks. These in turn lead to physical health conditions, including poor quality sleep, lower immunity to diseases, and even reduce the heart’s ability to function. Ensuring that elderly loved ones have regular companionship is important for combatting all of these issues.
How can you provide suitable companionship for seniors?
Keeping your senior family members company might be enjoyable, but it simply isn’t practical for most employment-age people. In this global era, too, many people live too far from their parents and grandparents to be able to visit frequently. Fortunately, there are a range of options available for avoiding social isolation, even if you can’t be there in person.
1. Virtual Engagements
Since the start of the pandemic, the use of secure, online social engagement platforms like Zoom, Skype and others has increased, and in many cases, even seniors now know how to operate these. If you have senior relatives living at home alone, setting up a device for them only needs to be done once. Create a shortcut on their device to log them in automatically or to answer when you call them and leave written instructions on what to do if necessary.
2. Arranged Home Care
While home care usually includes some form of health or personalised care other than companionship, it’s a fact that many seniors enjoy having a scheduled visit from a friendly, competent worker. Having someone call two to three times a week can provide a break from the monotony and social isolation, and at the same time ensure your aging loved one is healthy and well. Workers can help with basic domestic tasks such as laundry, pet care, or personal care such as wellness exercises. They can make sure the senior’s computer is working correctly and it’s easy for them to stay socially connected, or to call someone if they need to.
3. Friendly Visiting Volunteers
A number of organizations offer friendly visits by volunteers who are screened and police-checked before they are assigned. The Australian Red Cross, for instance, offers services in ACT, NSW, SA, TAX, VIC and WA to improve the social connections and community support for older people who live alone, as well as anyone with a disability or who is recovering from mental illness. An outing or a visit with a caring volunteer can give the client a break from isolation.
For seniors who enjoy getting out to social and entertainment events, you can apply for a Companion Card that allows them to take a caregiver or a family member at no additional cost.
What are the benefits of companionship for seniors?
In addition to keeping our aging loved ones occupied and active, studies show that having satisfying relationships make people happy. Happiness is one of the greatest predictors of long-term wellness because it leads to people eating healthier, getting enough sleep, cutting smoking and being more active.
Companionship not only contributes to happiness through friendships and other relationships, but it also offers other benefits:
- The chance to talk. Talking is something most people enjoy, and without someone to chat with an elderly person may well become miserable and depressed. Sharing, laughing and connecting is important to people at every stage of life, and as long as they have an attentive person listening to them it doesn’t really matter what the conversation consists of.
- Improved self-esteem. Many older people are talented at arts and crafts that were popular in the past but maybe dying out now. Having the chance to show someone their work or to pass on the skills they have can build self-esteem and confidence, which boosts their wellbeing and the will to live healthy lives.
- Experiencing outings. Even activities like running errands, are no fun for anyone to have to do them alone. Having another adult to share these with can be just the boost a person needs to get out and enjoy the day. It also provides peace of mind for both the client and their family members, because it means the senior isn’t alone during their travels but has a capable person at their side.
Scientific evidence indicates that in addition to promoting a healthy lifestyle, being happy can also help to combat stress, boost our immune systems, protect the heart and reduce chronic pain. What's more, it may even increase life expectancy. So, if providing companion care makes your elderly loved one happier, you’ll be contributing to a longer, better quality of life all around.