Companionship Essential to Mental AND Physical Health

Everyone knows that friendship - or even just someone to talk to - has a powerfully mood-lifting effect, for anyone at any age. It’s nice to keep mom or grandpa company. However, it’s becoming more understood by scientists that companionship is more than just a nice thing for seniors to have.

Several recent studies have concluded that human interaction significantly improves seniors’ cognitive function, health and safety. It’s not just about keeping older people entertained. Companionship is critical to mental and physical health.

A March 2009 study at the University of Chicago shows that social isolation has serious effects on the physical health of seniors - and loneliness in addition to isolation causes a decline in mental health as well.

Researchers found that seniors who feel most isolated are five times as likely to report poor health than those who feel least isolated. Elderly who have no social contact with others suffer the worst health, regardless of whether they feel lonely or not. But seniors who also feel lonely suffer 65 percent more depression than seniors who are equally isolated but do not feel lonely.

Lack of social contact in itself may not cause seniors to experience depression. Rather, it leads from the loneliness of feeling there is no one who would help them in times of need.

“A shrinking circle of friends and family can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation,” says lead researcher Erin York Cornwell, PhD. “Our findings suggest that those who...don’t feel isolated do better with respect to both physical and mental health.”
By providing constant companionship and enabling transportation to visit friends or worship services and other social events, a Home Care Assistance caregiver helps prevent social isolation and loneliness. This is another way that live-in care can help improve the physical and mental heath of seniors who want to live independently at home. Even just ten minutes of conversation improves memory as much as playing games!

Abundant research suggests that seniors who are concerned about the loss of their mental abilities should exercise their brains as much as possible.

A University of Michigan study tested people as old as 96 and compared memory test scores between those who played daily games or puzzles to others who simply engaged in social interaction. Researchers found it only takes about 10 minutes of talking to someone else to improve your memory - an improvement equal to the gamers, whose memory scores far surpasses the non-social, non game playing seniors.

The more the seniors interacted socially, the better they scored on cognitive functioning.

Lead researcher Dr. Oscar Ybarra said, “We found that short-term social interaction lasting for just 10 minutes boosted participants’ intellectual [abilities]"
Ybarra says the results show that social isolation may negatively effect seniors’ intellectual abilities as well as their emotional well-being.

Seniors who bring companions to medical visits report higher satisfaction and quality of care

A recent survey reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine says that having a companion accompany a senior to medical visits contributes to greater satisfaction and quality of care, especially among those in poor health.

The study, sampling 12,018 senior citizens, found that 37 percent of these seniors were accompanied by a companion.

Most companions to medical visits are more than just passive observers. 64 percent of these companions assisted with communication. 44 percent recorded physician comments and instructions for the patient and 30 percent explained physician instructions to the senior. 52 percent assisted with transportation and 8 percent provided physical assistance.

The report concludes that seniors’ medical visit companions are a valuable resource for ensuring quality of care.

Live-in caregivers can be especially helpful to seniors on medical visits—and not just for supplying transportation. On medical visits where a spouse or relative is unable to accompany the senior, caregivers can aid communication and even take notes or record visits to keep the senior’s family informed, even remotely. After medical visits, by providing medication reminders and ensuring that doctors’ instructions are followed.

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