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For those with mild symptoms of dementia, having someone visit who can help out with odd jobs around the house can be a useful way of maintaining independence

Your loved one with dementia may have always been a very independent person, enjoying getting out and about, doing shopping, meeting friends, driving or catching public transport and generally looking after themselves.

However, once dementia symptoms start to set in, they may need more support. Initially this may not be for typical care challenges such as bathing or dressing, but rather more practical issues such as shopping, gardening, getting to a weekly bridge playing session or simply having someone to talk to. That’s where companion care can help.

What is companion care?

Essentially, companion care is exactly as its name implies – companionship for someone who needs it. In most cases, it’s aimed at older people who live alone and who would benefit from someone to share experiences, personal stories and get help around the home or in daily life.

Companion care can help in the following areas:

Grocery shopping
Housekeeping and odd jobs such as changing a lightbulb
Meal preparation
Paying bills
Filling out forms
Writing letters
Pet care

Personal assistance
Transportation to appointments
Medication reminders
Safety assistance
Picking out clothing
Planning and keeping appointments

Contact with outside world

It’s really important to recognise the distinction between companion care and other types of care. A companion carer may help pick out an outfit for someone, but wouldn’t be expected to help with dressing. Likewise, they may help walk someone to the toilet, but wouldn’t assist them in using the toilet or changing incontinence pads.

If the needs of your loved one with dementia require more specific support, you will need properly trained home health care workers, who will have the skills, knowledge and experience to carry out tasks such as bathing, dressing, toileting or lifting.

The real value of companion care is in its very nature of companionship. In today’s society, the traditional family unit is less cohesive, with parents often living miles away from their grown-up children or other family members. Loneliness and isolation can be a real problem for those with dementia – a survey by the Alzheimer’s Society in 2013 found 38% of people with dementia felt lonely.

Having a companion who can visit an elderly parent or relative, especially one with dementia, can be a useful way of maintaining social contact. Social stimulation is vital for helping to delay or slow the effects of dementia, as well as boosting mood.

What to think about when choosing companion care

Companion care is usually booked through an agency, although it can be obtained through some charities such as the Royal Voluntary Service or the Alzheimer’s Society.

These are the types of questions you should be asking them when organising companion care.

What exactly does the companion care agency offer?
Do they also provide home health care should the need arise?
What background checks are carried out on the staff?
Do they receive training for dementia?
Can they report back to family members about someone’s condition?
Will it be the same person for each visit?
How much time will they spend with your loved one during each visit?
What happens if the companion and your loved one don’t get on?

Essentially, companion care can act as your ‘eyes and ears’ if you’re unable to visit a loved one with dementia as often as you’d like. But most importantly, they’re a friendly ear to listen and help out when needed.

For information on paying for care, click here.

For information on dementia befriending schemes, click here.