After my father died 11 years ago, my mother became fiercely independent. Her social calendar was full, as she drove to book club get-togethers, choir practices and film group meetings. And her memory remained sharp for years. I know this because she could recall incidents from my childhood that I had long forgotten.
Dementia changed all that. Roughly three years ago, my mother started to get into car accidents — fortunately not severe, but concerning. One night, she forgot how to get home from choir practice. I noticed her struggling at times to recall the names of friends and relatives. She often couldn’t remember where the utensils she used regularly were kept in the kitchen.
My family and I knew she needed help, but we didn’t want to move her from her home, the Michigan neighborhood where I was raised and that she adored. She relished being surrounded by young families who would walk past the house with babies and dogs in tow. And the thing is, she was otherwise in relatively good physical health. She didn’t need a home health aide. She needed someone who could just spend time with her.
A different type of care
Such an arrangement is called companion care, a solution for people in my mother’s situation. They need some supervision, but not medical care, as well as help with tasks such as cooking and transportation, but not feeding or dressing. And they crave companionship. Almost half of women 75 and older live on their own. “We’ve got loved ones who are sitting alone and not having conversations and not really staying as much engaged in life or feeling as relevant,” says Sherri Snelling, a gerontologist and spokesperson for Comfort Keepers, an in-home care agency. “They want to have conversations and have that kind of relationship.”