Companionship is an urgent need for seniors | Perspective

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, nearly 30 percent of Americans age 60 and older live alone, and that number is even higher in Palm Beach County. The shocking truth behind these numbers is that living a life of isolation can have a negative impact on physical and mental health. Research from the National Institute on Aging has shown a correlation between social isolation and adverse health factors such as high blood pressure, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other diseases. On the other hand, the benefits of social engagement for older adults include increased life expectancy, improved quality of life, improved mood, and perhaps most importantly, improved cognitive function. Therefore, accompanying care is becoming more and more important in the elderly care.

Meet 88-year-old Marius of Delray Beach. Marius was married and lived at home with his wife. A year ago, she had noticed that Marius was sleeping more and looking bored as he wandered around the house. She contacted JFS at Home, a licensed nonprofit home health agency affiliated with Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Services, and enrolled Marius in the organization’s partner program, which connects seniors with willingness to provide Help match individuals. JFS Companions help with transportation, assist with errands and/or medical appointments, and provide companionship at home. They also get hourly wages based on their time.

Marius is paired with Ben, an 84-year-old retiree also from South Palm Beach County. The two spend three days a week together, three hours a day. They go for walks, visit beaches, local parks, and anywhere else they can enjoy some fresh air. “There were no plans, we were just friends getting together and enjoying each other’s company and the outdoors,” Ben said. During the year Marius met Benjamin, he had a real friend who helped him become more active, social and independent.

From my daily conversations with families and feedback from professionals in my community, I know that the need for senior companionship continues to grow. Supporting older adults who are experiencing greater isolation during the pandemic is critical. Having a partner allows them to connect, socialize and participate in more life activities. This buddy system, fostered by the buddy program, is a beautiful and meaningful partnership that allows helpers to become valuable companions and create special bonds.

Unfortunately, since the pandemic, the JFS At-Home Companion Program has experienced a shortage of companions despite the increasing needs of our community. Over the past few years, we have seen a rapid increase in the number of clients we need to serve. Many people experienced an acceleration in cognitive impairment, which we can directly attribute to pandemic isolation. For others, especially those without family by their side, the reliance on the services provided by JFS at Home has grown exponentially.

That’s why we’re actively seeking partners for our JFS at Home program. The program benefits both Premium Clients and Companions. As Ben admits, “Through this program, I also met the perfect partner for me.”

If you are interested in becoming a partner, or need a partner for a senior family member, please visit jfshome.org or contact Marissa Gordon at 561-852-4663 or MarissaG@jfshome.org.