About 11 million people aged 65 and up live alone, per the
U.S. Census Bureau, and 42 million people over the age of 45 suffer from chronic loneliness,
AARP Loneliness Study. As the likelihood of living alone increases with age, so does a higher
risk of mortality, according to a 2013 study
published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
In fact, this
2015 Brigham Young University study
led by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., found the health risks of prolonged
isolation are on par with obesity and smoking.
Divorce, the death of a spouse or relative, illness, and changes in
mobility, memory, hearing and vision are among the reasons older adults
isolate themselves — sometimes unintentionally. A surviving spouse may be
paralyzed by grief, struggling to adjust to her new normal as a widow. She
may feel she needs more time to grieve but is unaware of the risks of
isolation. A fiercely independent retiree who has lived alone for years may
find his impaired hearing an obstacle in social situations and choose to
isolate himself, not recognizing the effects of loneliness on his health.
Isolation doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s important to be proactive at
the first signs of loneliness. Here are five ways to combat the dangers of
isolation — currently considered a growing health epidemic among older
adults — with the benefits of
professional companion care:
1. Companion Care Provides a Lifesaving Social Connection
These trends around isolation are dramatic, but so are the results of
staying connected. According to the Holt-Lunstad study, a greater social
connection is associated with a 50 percent reduction in the risk of early
Stephany Hartman is a 65-year-old divorcee who lives alone by choice. She
welcomed the solitude after a lifetime of caring for her husband, children
and parents; however, Hartman — who is now retired — does get lonely. “My
children are grown and have homes, jobs and families of their own, and I
may go weeks without speaking to them,” she says. Hartman relies on her
dogs for company, and the internet — Facebook in particular — for
companionship. “I depend on that connection to keep in touch with friends
and see what my children and grandchildren are up to.”
Social media does offer an easy, efficient way to connect with those we
care about, but it is not a replacement for human contact and real-time,
face-to-face interactions. Companion care can meet that need.
2. Companion Care Fosters Independence
Some people may associate home care with surrendering independence — or
with a feeling of “I can’t.” Hartman says this is her biggest
frustration about living alone. “I can't do many of the things for myself
that I used to do. My kids have said that all I have to do is ask and they
will help me, but I understand they have their own responsibilities,” she
Deb Hallisey, a family caregiver to her father before his passing and now
to her mother, who lives alone, describes her mom as being “resigned” to
companion care — and not necessarily in a negative way.
She knew her diminished eyesight would make living alone without support a
challenge. “My mother is also very social,” says Hallisey. And after losing
her husband of 61 years, she knew that she wanted to stay at home — and
that companion care offered the best solution. She’s still able to be
independent at home, maintain social connections, and has someone to talk
to on good and bad days.
Whether your older loved one is exceptionally social or shy, companion care
strikes a healthy balance between independence and isolation.
3. Companion Care Meets Basic and Advanced Needs
Living alone isn’t just about loneliness: it means an older adult now must
do things alone — like preparing meals, scheduling appointments, doing
laundry or making household repairs. Since Mom passed away, it may be the
first time Dad is doing laundry or buying groceries. For surviving spouses,
taking on the responsibility of the whole household can be intense and
“On days when I'm able, I work on home improvements, but that is sporadic
because of arthritis and fibromyalgia,” says Hartman. “I can deal with
quite a bit of pain but some days are more difficult than others.”
For Hartman’s parents, keeping up with the activities of daily living are
complicated by their care needs. “My father was blind and nearly deaf when
he was diagnosed with metastasized cancer. At nearly the same time, my
mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.” It was hard for Hartman to
meet all their needs, as she was single and had a full-time job.
The companion for Hallisey’s mother helps her with grocery shopping, but it
was important to establish early on in their relationship that her
independence on that task was respected. At first, her companion would rush
through putting the groceries away. “Mom remembers where things go and she
wants to do it,” Hallisey says. So her companion had to learn to slow to
her mother’s pace.
Open, honest communication about what’s important to the older adult who
lives alone is key to establishing a positive relationship.
4. Companion Care Offers a Listening Ear and an Extra Pair of Eyes
You may be genuinely concerned about how a parent will fare once she’s on
her own. You may be just as concerned about his safety as you are about his
potential for isolation and loneliness. Grief and depression are closely
tied to isolation, and both can seriously interrupt daily life — turning an
independent person into one unable to keep up with basic daily tasks.
That doesn't mean a move to assisted living is necessary. The health risks
of isolation are significant, but the opportunities for extended
independence, support at home and a positive relationship with a
professional caregiver are even more significant. If the companion is
simply there to let you know how your parent is doing and provide a
listening ear in a time of grief and loneliness, it's worth it.
5. Companion Care is for All Seasons and Situations
For Monica Stynchula, CEO and Founder of ReunionCare, companion care was “a
blessing” for her mom after her dad’s passing — as she and her siblings did
not live in their hometown. “Our parents had been married for 59 years. Mom
was lost in her grief for years and wanted to stay in her home filled with
the memories of raising a family with her love,” she says. “Her medical
conditions limited her ability to get out when the weather turned cold and
lowered her motivation for good self-care. Having a professional caregiver
come in to visit and do light housework was a blessing when none of us
could get to her,” Stynchula says.
Winter is a particularly difficult season for seniors living alone, but for
an isolated adult, grief and loneliness can visit any time of year. If your
loved one lost a spouse in the fall, he might struggle most during that
season. If your parent lost a sibling in the summer, she might feel the
weight of grief more sharply at that time.
Isolation and loneliness can happen year-round. But a companion caregiver
can support your loved one through the difficult and not-so-difficult
seasons: providing social connections, friendship, household help, enhanced
independence and more.
Learn more about vital
companion care services
by clicking here.