“I’m lonely…” They were not the first words uttered by Ed, 91 years old.  But he blurted that out within minutes of telling me that he didn’t need much help – maybe 3 hours every 2 weeks.  Are seniors in denial?  No, most don’t realize how lonely they are until someone comes into their home expressing new interest and passion for their life’s experiences.  Of course, our job is to validate the senior so we draw out every bit of information they can provide us to help us ascertain who they are and develop relationship.  At the end of this visit (Ed flirted with me of course) Ed received a big hug – initiated by myself.  “Oh, you don’t know how much I miss that…”

A caregiver providing care related one of her companion visits which was primarily a ‘home support/cleaning visit’.  “When I first started in home care, I was very young and the agency I worked with had us running from home to home.  Our mandate was to complete a list a mile long in 2 hours and often less and then try to sneak out of the house before our senior tried to engage us when leaving.  If you didn’t manage to – you were stuck there for at least 15 minutes meaning you were late for your next senior.  I was so trying to work by the book.  I mentioned my frustration about being late between visits to a friend and they suggested I work the visit with the senior into the cleaning, laundry etc.  My gent had emphysema and was on oxygen – it meant he couldn’t get out at all!  That made him very lonely.  It also meant, he couldn’t help me with simple chores so that we could work together and chat.  So I made him a deal.  I told him if he let me whip through the chores in an hour and a half, I’d sit with him for the last ½ hour.  It worked – a ‘win win’ for both of us.”

Now that doesn’t address the statement “I’m lonely”.  Seniors that are lonely can be also depressed.  They express very little interest for life’s pleasures because they have lost some of their zeal for life.  No one sees it coming – it sneaks up on the senior and their family.  Take for instance a loving daughter living in a nearby city who keeps in touch with her dad 3-4 times per week by phone.  She’s a busy professional.  When she calls and asks her dad how he is, he becomes animated and lively telling her he’s fine – he has a visitor and progresses to tell her all that he’s been up to.  There is no sign in his conversation that anything is lacking at all – she must hang up the phone and think ‘dad is just great’!  Our caregiver asked him why he told her all that positive stuff, when he tells her he’s lonely.  He said “I don’t want to bother her – she’s busy and I don’t want her to worry”.

We as care workers hear the most amazing things – details often not shared with medical staff or family. The secrets we have been privy to, sobbed onto our shoulders and asked to promise to “never tell a soul” are so amazing, such depth of remorse or sorrow, that one must wonder how the senior has shouldered the burden all those years.  Those secrets weren’t shared because the senior was bursting to tell; it was because someone had developed ‘relationship’, become their companion and friend.

Family are often the last to know how seriously lonely their parent is.  He or she may not need care – but they need companionship.  As a matter of fact – regular companionship may just keep the need for future care needs at bay.

If you are reading this article and you have a passion working with seniors to cook for them, read or walk with them, or provide a few hours of respite for a spouse, we need you!  Companioning is rewarding for the senior, but will take you by surprise!  You will be greatly rewarded as well.

 

The old adage ‘one size fits all’ may be true, but not for senior companion services.  Our seniors come from a variety of backgrounds, and cultures.  Many are retirees from various parts of Canada, or moved here in their youth from Europe or Britain. They’ve come through the depression and the war, struggling through abject poverty.  Other’s are retired CEO’s of companies, or retired teachers, administrators, conductors, or professional opera singers!

Regardless of their backgrounds, the humour and intelligence that emanates from their stories are entertaining and refreshing.  One senior quite literally told us in our interview that she met her husband in bed.  You can imagine the reaction!  While waiting for the punch line, we were not disappointed.  She was the nurse that cared for him.

Good humour is not naturally inherent in all of our elderly clients.   Some suffer from dementia, or debilitating diseases that render them unable to endure humor – or communicate as well as they once did. This can make it a greater challenge to be a companion for them.  Non-verbal companionship can be a huge struggle with the elder that no longer communicates.

Matching your companion carer to your loved one can be simpler than one thinks.  Many caregivers are looking for a meaningful ‘after retirement’ career.  With  background careers in dentistry, teaching, catering, nursing, and home making/raising children, our carers have the right mix of experience to be a good companion.  After all – the number one consideration for most seniors is ‘good food,’ home cooked meals with great nutritious selection and presentation, and the number two consideration is good conversation.  By delving into the backgrounds of the senior and the caregiver, we are able to establish who might be the best carer.  Knowing the interests of both, will help you to select the ‘best fit’.

One senior recently expressed “not having had a great number of caregivers in the past, I didn’t realize how much I dreaded someone coming.”  When asked why that was, they said “we just don’t click!  Then you sent another person for the extra weekly shift, and it was like a breath of fresh air!”

When hiring for a companion, we ask them many questions about themselves, their interests and how they think they can make a difference in a senior’s life.  We look for those who have the ability to ‘wear different hats’ – those that can leave the home of a British couple, where the husband is still called “the major” and enter the home of a widower who is a joker and a tease!  It’s being able to change your colours – like a chameleon.  Good communication requires adaptation to your audience.

When travelling home to home, the caregiver is often thinking of who they are going to see and what they may need to do in preparation for their visit.  A good companion will even bring activities with them, such as puzzles, colouring books, or card games depending on the interest of their client.

Here are some tips to consider when hiring the right agency or companion for your loved one:

  1. Do your research. Even the agency you will work with should fit the criteria of the ‘best fit’. Read through websites, and call to speak with various agencies to get a feel of the levels of support you will receive.  You must feel that communication channels are open between yourself and the agency representative and that they are open to hearing your concerns.
  2. Testimonials & references. You may ask about references for various workers the agency might supply.  You could ask for their characteristics.  Read the testimonials of other patients to ascertain if the agency is the right fit.
  3. Provide the details. Let the agency know as much as possible about your loved ones background. You will want a carer that has experience in these areas.
  4. Consistency and regular shifts. By having regular shifts, times and seniors to work with, both the caregiver and the senior benefit.  If caregivers and seniors are constantly changing, neither of them have time to establish a relationship – the visits don’t have time to create a ‘best fit’.
  5. Age matters! Select a carer that will be able to relate well to your loved one.  We enjoy matching our retired companions to our seniors.  Especially those with great cooking and home making skills.

Sometimes we match the senior to a young caregiver that reminds them of their own grand-children.  Often however there are at least 3 generations between them, and the carer and senior don’t actually ‘speak the same language’.  Use of slang words or not being able to relate to the senior or they to the younger carer, can create great huge gaps in the companion visit.

We know we have a ‘good fit’ when we receive references for companions such as these: “she has brightened mom’s spirits and shown her such love as if she were her own mom, taking her on outings and to musical concerts” and  “she has the heart of an angel and when we went to see mom, it was the miracle we all were looking for.  She gave mom’s life new meaning”! These are meaningful comments, and ones an agency will pick up on making it easier to match the carer to the correct senior.

Our companions often get as much out of the visit as they give!  One caregiver a retired RN stated after her first shift ‘You pay me to do this?  I should pay you’.

Regardless of who the senior client is, there is a certain someone that can make a difference in their lives.  We utilize a saying ‘till death do us part’ as many of our carers have seen a client through hourly, overnight, live-in and palliative care – and are present at their funeral.

It may take a couple of times to find that person, but embracing the “best fit approach” will certainly ensure the family that not only is the agency you are working with the right fit, but that they will indeed match your mom or dad to the ‘best fit’ in a caregiver.

“The days are fine, it’s the nights alone I don’t like!”  Says Bill, who lost his wife 6 months ago.  “I miss Gladys, because we would watch Wheel of Fortune and play cards after supper.  Now the evenings are so quiet!”

Many of our clients have family living in the same city, but they have children of their own, two jobs, a dog and so many other extra curricular things happening in their lives. It is a breath of relief for families to have someone else provide the companionship and friendship a care aide or companion can bring to their parent.

Providing a companion to sit with Bill for a couple of hours in the evening can complete his life.  Like Bill told us, he has music, walks, bus rides, outings with his friend, and at least one or two activities per day, but having the extra at night would complete his life.

Often the senior is isolated even in their own community.  They may live in assisted living in their own apartment, however the only contact they may have with each-other is at meal times.  June was too weak to go to her meals for a few weeks and had her meals delivered.  She said, that no one just stops in to see how she is doing, and she can be days without seeing anyone.

Bill has a family friend, Betsy that takes him out during the day.  He remarks “I don’t know what I’d do without Betsy (he has 3 daughters).  If Gladys hadn’t arranged that Betsy look out for me after she passed, I just don’t know what I would have done.”

Betsy not only takes Bill to doctor’s appointments, but sees that his dentures are reworked so he can chew his food, picks him up for a drive when she takes her 5 kids on after school activities such as violin and piano lessons, and goes on long drives on sunny days.  One day she told the office, “Bill’s with me now for a gourmet lunch – hotdogs!”  Because she is surrounded by children under 12, they call him Grandpa Bill, and his heart is so warmed by the attention.

The senior doesn’t rely so heavily on the family to provide those same pieces of assistance, meaning that when family visit it’s a fun time to share with children and grandchildren.

Providing a companion to our lonely seniors is so rewarding.  Not only can we provide that companionship, but we can go shopping, to the library, visit the doctor or dentist, arrange for the garburator to be fixed and flip the fuse that operates the stove.