Companion care is primarily emotional support and companionship for seniors who are generally healthy and who want to remain independent at home. However, it can also include a range of non-medical services that help make a senior's life more manageable. These services can include light housekeeping, assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), medication reminders and more. Though companion care focuses on those seniors in their homes, it can be provided to those in nursing homes and assisted senior living facilities. Companion care also falls under the titles personal care assistants and homemaker services.
What is Companion Care?
The role of companion care changes based on the senior and their needs. It is a service that can be applied at home, home hospice or in an assisted living situations. In general terms, companion care spans both the social and physical care of a senior or couple. The goal of companion care as a service is to:
- Provide emotional support
- Improve the quality of life of the senior
- Provide companionship for the senior
Companion care can also include physical care such as grocery shopping, house cleaning, and chores that support or that maintain the independence of a senior or couple. Companion care should enable the senior to enjoy life.
Senior companions are people, some of whom are paid and some are volunteers, who provide a needed and consistent presence in a senior's life. The role of a senior companion is to maintain the link between the senior and the rest of society. They work in such as way as to provide emotional companionship and in some cases, they provide physical care while lifting the burdens that come with getting older, loss of mobility and mental decline. Senior companions need not be medically trained or certified and their role can be as simple as taking a senior grocery shopping or to a doctors appointment. It can also be simply sitting down with a senior on a regular basis and enjoying conversation.
What are the Benefits of Senior Companionship?
The biggest benefit of senior companionship is that it improves the quality of life of seniors. Companionship goes beyond just caregiving and is a symbiotic relationship that enables the senior to thrive. On a social level having friends and companions enables people to talk about challenges, express grief, and to find resources to solve problems. On a personal level, a quality companion is someone that the senior not only looks forward to visiting with, doing things with but also is someone on which they can rely. Older people worry about many of their challenges that for you and I might be very small such as going to the grocery store or transportation to and from doctors appointments. Companionship helps to remove the worry and burden, so that seniors can focus on living a quality life.
The impact of a senior companion for seniors is often a longer and healthier life with improved wellbeing. When we are alone, we suffer and are at higher risk of dementia and forgetfulness. There is a lack of ambition and it can be associated with depression and the loss of the will to live. The worst of all criminals are placed in isolation as a punishment. Companionship for the elderly is so important because it is the fuel that brings meaning back to their lives and with that comes the willingness to do more.
What Types of Companion Care are There?
- Live-in companion care – Live-in companion care is usually provided by a home care service. It involves 24-hour shifts by one or more person. This type of service is ideal for keeping a senior in their home as long as possible and usually involves many types of services from meal preparation and house cleaning to grooming, bathing, and transportation to appointments.
- In-home companion care – This type of service typically involves shorter visits with specific goals such as meal prep, assistance with bathing, or transportation to an appointment or for grocery shopping. There is also well-person checks that occur when friends, family, or other members of the community stop in on a regular basis. Such support can come from a local church, neighbors, or from a paid service.
- Companion hospice care – Hospice provides companion care through a variety of means. A hospice has volunteers who stop by to visit and to help. A hospice volunteer might run errands for the senior or help them to appointments. Hospice also provides Home Health Aids for personal needs and respite visits. Hospice is a dynamic organization and other senior companions include social workers, clergy, and nurses.
- Religious-based companion care, which is often available through many religious groups such as Christian companion care, Catholic companion care, etc. If the senior has been part of a religious community, begin the search within that group. Familiar faces make great companions. If not, most religious groups are happy to help and many non-denominational religious groups are available too.
Companion Care Services
At its core, companion care is just as the name implies—companionship and someone to share experiences and personal stories with. This personal link can be crucial for seniors who live alone and may be isolated from others.
Seniors who engage in conversation and play games (bridge, scrabble, etc.) with a companion are keeping an edge on their mental acuity. Studies show that these kinds of stimulation can help delay the effects of dementia or Alzheimers.
Other services include:
- Medication reminders
- Assistance with daily routines such as getting out of bed and getting in and out of the car.
- Performing light housekeeping duties
- Preparing and cooking meals
- Transportation assistance to the grocery store, doctor's appointments, and errands.
- Help with planning, scheduling and keeping appointments.
- Encouraging and planning social activities. This can include local sightseeing trips, movies, shopping, visits to family and friends, and anything that keeps the client busy and enjoying life.
- Exercising to keep a healthy body, mind and spirit. This can include walks in the neighborhood, swimming at the local pool, and anything that keeps them active.
- Entertaining with hobbies, games, etc.
- Interacting with family members to keep them abreast of their loved one's condition.
- Some providers may have dementia care training and experience to help those seniors who are showing signs of the disease.
Who Provides Companion Services?
- Certified Home Care Agencies and Hospice Agencies provide medical and non-medical services. These agencies are strictly regulated by the federal government.
- Non-certified (and non-licensed) agencies provide nonmedical home services.
- Independent contractors are self-employed and are hired directly by the family. These caregivers are usually not licensed.
Choosing Companion Care Services
As you begin to narrow down your choice of companion care providers, consider these questions.
- Does the agency offer additional services like home health if my loved one's condition dictates?
- Is the agency recommended by a hospital, social worker, doctor or similar professional?
- Does the agency perform background checks on the staff?
- Does the employee have professional recommendations they can provide?
- Does the employee have any special certifications or skills (e.g. dementia care, nutrition, etc.)?
- Does the agency provide free in-home safety evaluations?
- Does the agency provide 24-hour/7 days a week service?
- How does the agency supervise the caregiver?
- How the agency develops the client's care plan?
- Is family involved with the care process?
- Is the client involved with their care process and plan?
- If the caregiver is unable to work on a given day, who is their replacement? How much notice are you given?
- Will the caregiver be the same person every time?
- What is the average time a caregiver stays with the agency?
- What are the payment options? Is there a payment plan?
- Are there additional fees, deposits, etc. not included in the quoted cost?
- Do holidays and weekends cost extra?
Companion Care Costs
Costs will vary according to the level of care provided and the training of the caregiver. Other factors may include the local market and reputation of the provider. According to a Genworth Financial Cost of Care Survey, the national average for licensed companion care services is $18 an hour and most services require a 4 hour minimum. The study defines this care as “Homemaker Services, which is a service makes it possible for people to live in their own homes or to return to their homes by helping complete household tasks that they can't manage alone. Homemaker services aides may clean houses, cook meals or run errands.”
Medicare does not pay for companion care. Most recipients of companion care or their families pay using their own money. Some long-term care (LTC) insurance may cover companion care services. In addition, some states offer a home allowance based on the financial needs of their residents. Your Area Agency on Aging is a good starting point to find out what's out there where you live.
How do I Find Companion Care for the Elderly?
There are a number of sources for senior companions and some of those are free. Start by defining the needs of the senior and then matching the skill sets of companions with those the senior's needs.
Home Care Companies – Licensed and unlicensed home care companies provide companion care. You want to thoroughly vet any potential companion and the company that employs them. Home care services are charged either by the visit or by the hour. Sometimes companion care is free. You can begin to find compatible companion care through your:
- Local church
- Through community services such as the Senior Corps, which provides volunteers that help seniors with tasks such as grocery shopping or transportation to a doctors appointment.
- Social workers who may have information about programs that are locally-based
- State Department of social or health services. Many states have senior programs and may provide information that helps you find the perfect senior companion.
Many assisted living centers also provide companion care as part of their service offerings.
Is There Companion Care Near Me?
Most likely there is! Senior companions are easy to find in most large communities. In smaller communities, the role of a senior companion may include several people, such as neighbors, friends, friends from church, and paid services from a care provider services. There are also national organizations that provide senior companions through volunteers.
Learn more about finding a senior companion near you through the Corporation for National & Community Service. You can also use our directory to search for companion care near you, read reviews and get companion care pricing information.
Companion care can enable seniors to remain more independent and keep them from going to that next more costly step: assisted living or a nursing home facility.