Companion Care for the Elderly

Companion care can improve your quality of life—or your aging parent.

What is companion care?

Living alone increases the risks of depression and other health issues for older Americans. Around 40% of Americans in their 70s live alone and 60% of those ages 80 and over, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

Most of us can’t be there all the time for aging loved ones who want to be independent. One option for improving their quality of life is companion care.

The main goal of companion care is to provide social and emotional support to seniors living alone. The companion can also help with daily activities, like running errands or accompanying the senior when they go shopping.

Companions may come every day, a few times a week, or just for weekly visits. The visits may last a few hours or be a full day.

What is the difference between a companion and a caregiver?

Home care aides (also known as personal care aides) are often more hands-on, assisting with bathing, grooming, hygiene, and similar tasks. They may also provide basic medical services, such as taking temperature or blood pressure, helping with medications, wheelchairs, and walkers.

Personal caregivers typically have some training, such as being a certified nursing assistant or home health aide, though requirements vary by state. Senior companions, on the other hand, are not required to have any training.

Pro Tip

Suggest a trial period for both the senior and companion to make sure it is a good fit. Sometimes family members negotiate a trial for a few weeks and then check in with the senior and the companion to see if it is a match. —Dr. Bobbi Wegner

What are the duties of a companion?

The primary role of a companion is to offer social and emotional support. Companions may also offer home care services, like meal preparation and light housekeeping. They can run errands together—taking the senior grocery shopping, to the salon or barber, to doctor appointments or social events. They can also run errands if the senior cannot go out.

Pro Tip

It is important for the scope of the companion’s work to be clearly articulated with the companion, the senior, and the family at the beginning of the relationship. Clear expectations and boundaries allow for a much better experience for everyone involved. —Dr. Wegner

Where can I find companion care?

Dr. Rx

Spend time finding the right person—even if you feel desperate for help. Remember, the safety and security of your loved one is at stake: They will be in your senior’s home alone, possibly driving them around, and providing close care. Involve your senior in the process, check references, and ask the hard questions (like how they deal with difficult emotions, how they expect to handle holidays, etc) at the front end. —Dr. Wegner

Many agencies that provide home health care also offer companion services. Typically, you can find private caregivers through word-of-mouth or local organizations.

Local religious and other organizations may have home visitation services, where they send volunteer visitors. The national organization, Senior Corps, trains volunteers over age 55 to offer companion care. You can also find local organizations that work with Senior Corps. Also, check with the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging for local companion care services.

When to consider companion care

Not every older adult living alone needs companion care. But there are some circumstances where it may be helpful.

  • A senior who feels isolated from friends and family. Or needs more social interaction.
  • An older adult or couple who is having trouble with daily activities or needs transportation for appointments.
  • An individual who is becoming forgetful or has other cognitive issues.
  • A senior who has lost a partner or is depressed.
  • A person who needs a reminder of when and how to take medication.

Does Medicare cover companion care?

Medicare does not cover companion care—it only covers personal care. Companion care costs about $15 to $25 an hour or an average of $125 for a full day, though it varies from state to state.

What to ask when interviewing a companion?

  • Ask about experience. Ideally, a prospective caregiver would have formal training, such as for a personal care aide or certified nursing assistant. You may want other credentials if you need experience with dementia care.
  • Ask if you can work together to create the care plan.
  • Ask for references if choosing a private caregiver. If working with an agency, discuss the type of personality that would get along with your older relative.
  • Ask about communication style and get a sense of how they communicate with the senior and the family. Aim for good, clear, respectful communication.
  • It’s important to assess the senior’s comfort level with the companion.
  • If you will need help with transportation, ask whether they have a license and are comfortable driving. Also, whether you will need to provide a car.
  • Discuss availability. Do you want a set schedule or have flexibility from week to week? Also, make sure they have enough time for your loved one.
  • Ask about how to handle vacation, sick days, and holidays.
  • Ask about cost and how they prefer to get paid.
Share your story
Was this article helpful?
Read this next