Brightening Ray’s Journey: The Benefits of Companionship for Seniors

Ray Smith will never forget the final months of 2018.

Ray Smith on the benefits of companionship for seniors
Ray Smith of Ajax, Ontario

“I remember sitting in my house feeling so sorry for myself,” said the 70-year-old about the loss of his spouse that September.

“My wife had been my companion, my confidante, my friend,” said Smith, who lives alone in Ajax, Ontario. “I’ve lost all that. And now, I am looking for a companion.”

A partner’s death can be devastating, especially for older adults like Smith who then face the challenges of aging alone.

“I do really miss companionship in my life. I need it. I need people. I’ve lost my better half,” he said, highlighting the emotional and social benefits of companionship for seniors.

Why We Feel Lonely as We Age

Almost a third of elderly Canadians are at risk of becoming socially isolated. One contributing factor is the loss of a spouse. As time went on after his wife’s passing, Smith continued to sit alone in his house, wondering, “What do I do with myself?”

Another factor is disability. Smith is legally blind, though partially sighted. While he doesn’t blame his reduced vision for his loneliness, it makes finding a companion more challenging.

“It limits me,” he said. “People say, ‘Go socialize.’ Well, it’s tough for me, as a blind person, to socialize, to get out there.” Smith’s wife gave him the “tough love” he needed to push himself out of his comfort zone.

older woman longing for companionshipOther factors contributing to loneliness include health issues, immobility, and the absence of family or friends who have moved away. Whatever the reasons for someone’s feelings of solitude, it comes with serious consequences.

“Companionship is a basic human need,” said Geoffrey McCallum, Home Care Liaison at The Key, whose services include companion care to help aging adults enjoy their lives.

McCallum said loneliness “can lead to more serious problems like mental health issues—like depression—and can even start to deteriorate your physical health if you start to isolate and not participate in things.”

Loneliness has been linked to poor health and a higher chance of premature death.

The Importance of Companionship for Older Adults

For people of all ages, social engagement enhances mental and physical health. “Seeing other people forces your brain to be active,” said McCallum. “Making your brain work can help fend off more advanced stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s. It makes you stronger and more flexible, and helps you continue a lifetime of learning.

“Growing old does not mean you have to be alone,” he said. “Your life can still be a vibrant journey, and relationships—whether new or renewed—can bring happiness and fulfillment.”

7 Tips for Seniors to Benefit from Companionship

senior friends having fun socializing together

Stay in touch with family.

Whether it’s through regular visits, phone calls, text messages, or video chats, staying connected with loved ones brings us joy and a sense of belonging.

Smith said that even living overseas doesn’t prevent his daughter from maintaining a close relationship with him and visiting when she can. His son, who lives in Peterborough, Ontario, keeps him updated on the activities of his three loving grandchildren. “I’m feeling very close,” he said.

Meet people your age.

Smith’s a member of PROBUS, which has clubs for semi-retired and retired people. Despite limitations posed by his disability, “going to a controlled PROBUS meeting like a breakfast, like a dinner, helps me get out there,” he said.

Smith also makes new friends through his volunteer work on the Age-Friendly Ajax Steering Committee and Ajax’s Accessibility Advisory Committee. He’s also tried to find his match on dating websites.

Get out and try new things.

“Join community groups, join yoga groups, join exercise groups, or join a gardening club,” said McCallum. Our communities are filled with opportunities to try new hobbies, take classes, or lend our talents to a worthy cause. Smith volunteers for the CNIB Foundation.

Use technology.

“Facebook can be a wonderful tool to find a companion,” said Smith, who also uses WhatsApp and video platforms to stay in touch with family. Though he had a bit of a learning curve, he said “there are plenty of people out there that can help you [use] a computer or iPhone.”

5

Consider companion care.

Some home care agencies provide companion services, which go beyond personal support and housekeeping tasks. “Companions also focus on other components that promote longer, healthier lifestyles,” said McCallum. “Things like nutrition, physical activity, cognitive stimulation, social engagement, a sense of purpose or calm, or getting enough sleep.

“We do things like puzzles or specific games that we know promote brain health, to keep the person’s mind exercised,” he said about The Key’s companion care. Through this service, you’ll be matched with someone for personalized attention whether you live at home or in a retirement community (if your residence permits it).

The Key’s companions can go with you for walks, take you to the store or medical appointments, or look up community events or senior day programs. When you connect with a companion, said McCallum, “it’s about bringing that higher quality of life.”

6

Think about downsizing into a retirement community.

If your house feels empty or unsafe and you’re ready for a new living option, moving into a retirement community may be the right choice. You’ll have lots of opportunities to make new friends, take part in social activities, and try new hobbies. You’ll live in a safe, accessible environment with no household chores to worry about. You’ll also have access to personal support and healthcare services.

7

Reach out for other help, if needed.

Depending on your needs, you may be able to find other sources of social support. Smith takes advantage of the CNIB’s Vision Mate program, which matches blind and partially sighted people with sighted volunteers providing companionship and assistance. “You’ve got an instant friend,” said Smith. “They can maybe take you shopping or take you to a doctor’s appointment.”

Everyone Deserves to Feel Happy and Connected

Senior couple having fun

If you’re the caregiver for an older family member who is socially isolated, feels depressed, or has a cognitive impairment, it may be time to find a paid companion.

“It will make a world of difference,” said McCallum, “in the quality of life for both you and the person that we’re caring for.” This is especially true if you’re juggling unpaid caregiving with stressful family or work demands.

However, for Smith, it may be time to add one new social activity to his calendar. “On my wish list,” he said, “I want to find out if there are any other senior groups in my community. That’s one of my to-dos.”

Maybe that’s where Smith will find his new best friend or soulmate. “It will happen in time,” he laughed. “Looking for a companion is difficult—but the right one is around the corner.”

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