October 14, 2019
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Human Touch: The role companionship plays in aging at home

By: Julie Ann Soukoulis
May 17, 2019

The latest advances in universal design and technology have made it easier than ever to age in place. One important human need, though, can only be met by companionship. More than a third of adults over 45 are lonely, according to a 2018 report from the AARP Foundation.

Two-thirds (67 percent) of North American homeowners between ages 55 and 75 surveyed by Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care® network, believe that loneliness or isolation impacts their decision in some way on where to live while aging.

“Technology is great to keep older adults connected to family or to current events, but you can’t replace another human sitting down and conversing or sharing a meal,” noted Home Instead Senior Care Gerontologist and Caregiver Advocate Lakelyn Hogan. “Socialization is one of the key factors of successful aging,” she said.

“Human interaction goes a long way toward decreasing loneliness and isolation, and reducing the risk of cognitive impairment,” Hogan noted. “That human and physical touch – a hug or hand-holding – is important and meaningful. Older adults still find meaning in human engagement. You don’t realize how much impact a visit has on older adults. It could be the highlight of their year.”

Companionship and human contact is an important part of healthy aging, particularly where nutrition is concerned, Hogan noted. “We had a client who wasn’t eating when Home Instead started working with her. She wasn’t cooking anymore and was in the early stages of dementia. The family brought Home Instead in to help with nutritional needs,” Hogan said.

“When the Home Instead Caregiver started working with the client, she still wasn’t eating. Then the Caregiver got to know the family and found out the woman had loved to eat out. So the Caregiver made dinner at home an event complete with special touches such as a table cloth. She dusted off the fine china and added candles, and really celebrated mealtime with music and companionship. Anyone can drop off a meal, but engaging seniors while they eat, sitting down with a cup of tea or helping out in the garden make such a difference.”

Companionship also can provide an important safeguard for older adults at home, Hogan said. “Having a second set of eyes and ears could help point out red flags to family members. Professional Home Instead CAREGivers, for instance, are trained to watch for home safety hazards. If older adults have a safe environment, they can age in place for a longer period of time. Someone regularly in the home will be the first to notice if an older adult is having an off day, and provide peace of mind for that family member.”

Loneliness is more than just sad, though. It could lead to more medical issues, expenses and could even be deadlier than smoking, research reveals. That’s why, if you suspect an aging loved one is lonely, it may be time to take action.

Studies have shown that socially isolated older adults are at greater risk for poor health and higher health claims than their well-connected friends:

Researchers in a 2017 AARP and Stanford University study estimate that 14 percent of older adults enrolled in original Medicare — or 4 million people — have meager social networks. The federal health care program spends an average of $1,608 more a year for each older person who has limited social connections than for those who are more socially active, the study found. That translates into an estimated $6.7 billion in added Medicare spending each year.

 Since family caregivers play a crucial role in their senior loved one’s happiness, seeking out support and resources can help ward off loneliness. Consider contacting your local area office on aging at (800) 510-2020 to identify activities or groups your loved one may be interested in joining.

Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern?  She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime