Despite the loneliness most elderly people would prefer to live in their own homes.
Much has been written about the scourge of loneliness in modern society and the importance of companionship for a person’s wellbeing. But for some elderly people it may not be as important as the choice of remaining in their own home and retaining their independence.
A recent survey carried out by Home Instead which involved more than 2000 people over the age of 65 reveals that, on average, they are spending 8 hours alone daily, whilst almost half of over 85s face at least 10 hours per day alone. But, despite these findings, most people would prefer to stay in their own home rather than move to a care home as they feel safe there and find comfort living in familiar surroundings.
In fact, more than one in five (21%) who took part in the survey claim leaving their home behind would be as traumatic as a bereavement; and over one in 10 (11%) worry that their family would stop visiting them if they left their home.
Importance of companionship
Over half (65%) of the survey respondents said they are staying connected by reaching out to family or friends more than once a week, while one in four do so daily. However, resilient Brits do not want to put all the emotional support on their loved ones, with 93% saying that “not being a burden” is important to them.
The survey confirmed the importance of regular companionship. Nine in 10 Brits over-65 stated that having regular companionship helps older people stay mentally and physically healthy for longer, with improvements to mood, energy levels and motivation all widely recognised as key benefits by half of respondents.
This reminds us that companionship is equally important to service users in care and nursing homes. It is critical that staff have an ongoing process that makes service users feel welcome and provides opportunities to form friendships.
Domiciliary care and companionship
According to the survey more than two thirds of Brits aged 65 and over would prefer to stay at home with a visiting carer, rather than move in with their family or into a care home. When respondents with a carer were asked which benefits it has brought to their life, they stated that the assistance has helped them to stay living in their own home for longer (66%), while 57% said it’s allowed them to maintain their independence.
Many of the people Home Instead support simply want company and conversation. They believe that in-home care can offer a fresh start, offering new opportunities and friendships. Most importantly it empowers our clients to live their way, in their own home.”
Of those respondents with a carer, almost all (99%) claim they have had a positive impact on their life, with nearly half (46%) stating that it means they see a friend every day.
I recall my involvement some time ago in the development of a home care service within a local authority, and the results of a consultation on what recipients of the service wanted. We found it was not just the provision of the service for example, carrying out domestic tasks, but just having someone to visit and talk to was more important than the domestic tasks carried out by care staff.
There is little doubt that the ability to maintain independence figures highly in the minds of older people who are faced with a decision as to whether to move into a care home or wish to continue to live in their own home. People who are can make their own decisions and are physically able, will see a home carer as a member of staff who can support them to maintain their independence. Additionally, unlike a service provided by a care home, there is a one to one professional relationship that can give the service user greater control over the service provided.
Going forward technology will also make a valuable contribution to enable people to maintain their independence in their home.
The findings of the Home Instead survey come as little or no surprise, with one exception that people would prefer to live alone than give up their independence. Given the importance of companionship to the mental health and wellbeing of older people, social care strategists would do well to address this issue.
We need to explore community initiatives and befriending schemes along with a domiciliary care service that sees companionship as an important part of the service they provide. There is evidence to suggest that if we support people to maintain their independence then improvements to their mental health and wellbeing will follow. The payoff could result in a delayed admissions to care homes and hospitals and a prolonging of peoples quality of life.
Albert Cook Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy