When an older adult is lucky enough to be able to live on their own, or if they live with family members who are caregivers, a companion can fill a variety of needs, some of which are obvious, like preparing a meal or doing light housekeeping. Less obvious is the importance of having someone to talk with, to play a game of cards, or to help with getting to appointments.

   Being a companion is a many-faceted role, depending on the needs of individual clients and their families. Sometimes a companion can even turn into a friend. Last summer Mary Delaney contacted the Seniors Job Bank (SJB) to find a companion who would be interested in playing cards with her mother Anne, who was ninety-three and had recently suffered the loss of her husband. Eva Espinosa got the job. Four days a week, Eva and Anne played cards in the afternoon. It was the highlight of Anne’s week. When family members asked if she had a good day she would respond “I had a wonderful day because Eva came over.” Mary especially appreciated the fact that her mother had someone to play cards with, and to share a friendship, “not just to give pills” or perform more mundane tasks.

    Anne passed away last March. Eva came to visit her on Anne’s last day when she was in a deep sleep and near the end of her life. They had become good friends.

    There are currently 270 job seekers registered with the Seniors Job Bank who are interested in working as companions. They come from many different industries and backgrounds and have a variety of skills, but all of them are mature men and women interested in spending time with older people who need some companionship and/or help. 

     A companion is not a nurse or a home health aide who can provide patient care, but their role is still a crucial one. Many families care for elderly relatives themselves, and a companion can provide a much-needed change of pace, both for the caregiver and the client. 

     Caregivers appreciate having some time for themselves, whether for relaxation or simply getting some errands or grocery shopping done. Especially in the case of a loved one suffering from dementia, it is essential for caregivers to have a chance to regain their equilibrium and find the needed energy for this very demanding role. Some clients have conditions that make it impossible for them to be left alone. A companion can fill in the gaps when a caregiver must leave the house.

    Clients can also benefit from enjoying activities with someone new. SJB companions are available to work on crafts or puzzles, play games, make conversation, prepare lunch or dinner, or do light housekeeping. While they cannot give medication, they can remind clients when it is time to take it. They cannot help with bathing or showering but can be on hand should there be an emergency. Some clients would like a companion to accompany them to doctor’s appointments. They may need help with a walker or have hearing loss and want another person in the room, taking notes. 

   Inquiries about SJB’s companion services come from both clients and their families. Oftentimes adult children live out of town and are not able to look in on their parents. They need someone to spend a few hours a week to be sure that everything is running smoothly in the house. Sometimes they are looking for help with transportation and with accompanying clients to appointments. Local adult children who work might need someone to come in a few days a week to spend time with parents who would otherwise be on their own.

     For this relationship to work, it is best for children and their parents to discuss together the ways in which a companion could be helpful. If it is only the children’s idea, it is likely to be seen as an intrusion.

     Individuals who are interested in the services of a companion sometimes make the call themselves, which is ideal. A potential client recently contacted SJB to inquire about finding someone who could make occasional meals but might also be available to go out for dinner occasionally (client’s treat). 

    No matter who makes the initial inquiry, we ask what type of help they are looking for. Light housekeeping and occasional meal preparation can be the little bit of help that continues to make independent living possible. If companionship is the goal, we ask about the clients’ past careers and interests, and whether they want conversation, card-playing, or other activities. During the last couple of years of political turmoil, SJB has even fielded requests for companions of a specific political party! But the most important reason for successful matches between clients and companions is that the individual wants the help and accepts it. 

    It is common to assume that if an elderly person needs help, it must entail medical care or help with activities of daily living. Yet often what is needed is someone with whom to play a hand of cards, enjoy a meal together, or share a laugh. Although almost everyone needs help at one time or another, people differ in the kinds of assistance they need or are comfortable accepting. With careful screening and a group of highly motivated applicants, Seniors Job Bank can help clients and their families find the best companion for their individual situations. Written by Kathy Hayes