By Douglas Peck
When we think of elder care we often think of doctors, nurses, rehabilitation specialists and even hospice workers. We have an intuitive understanding of what each of these professions does and we know — often from personal experience — how important they are to keeping all of us healthy. We generally do not have the same understanding, or reaction, when we talk about companion care. Companion care is usually not seen as something that is essential to health and that is a very big mistake.
There are many things that affect our health from diet and exercise to how much sleep we get each night. Current research is showing that one of the most important aspects of our lives that helps us to stay mentally healthy is our social networks and our social interactions. And by social networks I don’t mean Facebook, I mean actual people to people interactions. Things like bridge clubs, going out to dinner with friends or just having a friend over to watch a movie.
What we are finding with many of the elderly is that their social networks may largely be gone. Neighbors may have moved to other living situations or simply passed away and their families are dispersed. They are not as mobile as they once were so they can’t drive to friends. They become more and more homebound and consequently, more and more isolated. They have nobody to take a walk with so they become more sedentary. They have no one to discuss the last book they read so they lose interest in reading. They have no one else to cook for so they lose interest in that as well.
All of these are critical factors in a senior’s health and are the main reasons why companion care is so important. Seniors who want to be independent need someone close to their own age, someone who has similar life experiences, to share a good book, walk or just a casual lunch with. When they have a companion instead of wondering what they are going to do that day, they are up early and eagerly looking forward to the activities of the day. It is amazing how quickly they can go from feeling lonely and isolated to feeling a part of the world again.
But this is only half the story. The real bonus is that all this happens to the person giving the care as well. Senior caregivers eagerly look forward to helping someone else. Their problems are put on the backburner and they now have a real reason to get up and get dressed in the morning. What is more important at any age than having meaningful work to do?
It’s why we say, keeping seniors working is both necessary and good for everyone in the community. It truly is a way to give and to receive.
Douglas Peck, CSA, is owner of Seniors Helping Seniors, in Southborough. He can be reached at 508-485-1765. Visit their website at www.seniorshelpingseniors.com/metrowest. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read on fiftyplusadvocate.com.