Older adults lose their social connections for various reasons. Retirement deprives seniors of workplace interactions. Children and other family members move to distant locations. Retirees who relocate to a different community no longer have the opportunity to visit with friends. Declining health might make it difficult to participate in social activities.
Older adults may be positioned to make new social connections if they move to a retirement community that organizes events to bring residents together. Substantial numbers of seniors who lack those opportunities are plagued by loneliness and a feeling of social isolation.
Social health is a component of overall health and wellness. It derives from meaningful connections and bonding with caring individuals. Connections create a sense of being supported and valued by others. People of all ages improve their social health by forming and maintaining healthy relationships.
Social health is related to physical and mental health. Loneliness and social isolation are risk factors for dementia, anxiety, depression, and heart disease. As Fortune reported in a November, 2023 article, social isolation makes it difficult for seniors to find someone they can rely upon when they face an emergency. A senior who needs transportation to a hospital’s emergency department might not want to incur the expense of an ambulance ride, but the unavailability of friends or family members who can provide transportation might leave the senior with few options. About 20% of seniors do not have anyone they can count on for help in an emergency.
Social isolation also increases the risk of a preventable health crisis. A senior who has regular contact with friends or family can count on someone to make sure she takes her medication. Friends may encourage an older adult to visit a doctor when she complains of recurring pain or when a cough seems to persist. Without feedback from trusted friends, seniors are more likely to ignore symptoms of poor health until they need to be treated in an emergency department.
When seniors can no longer turn to old friends for emotional support, finding new sources of companionship is essential. Companion care is among the services that many assisted-living facilities make available to residents. In addition to helping residents with their activities of daily living and helping with housekeeping, staff members are available to chat with residents and keep them company.
Older adults who live independently can hire a companion from a home care agency. While agencies provide trained home health aides to seniors who need help with their activities of daily living, they also provide companions who focus on keeping seniors engaged with the world.
Companions take note of the senior’s surroundings to make sure the senior is safe and secure. They encourage seniors to eat if they seem to have lost interest in food. While companions are not trained in medicine, they look for behaviors or symptoms that raise concerns of a developing health problem. A companion might encourage a senior to see a doctor — and might help the senior make an appointment and drive her to the doctor’s office — if the senior complains of pain or the companion notices that a cough is worsening.
The adult children of older parents might want to help them select a home care agency. Some states regulate agencies more extensively than others. Some agencies provide more comprehensive training than others. Some agencies might offer companions who are trained to work with seniors in the early stages of dementia while others might not. Adult children can do the research that is needed to assure that a parent is paired with a suitable companion.