Importance of Companionship for Senior Citizens
We will soon be celebrating National Grandparent’s Day on September 11th. And one of the best ways to celebrate this would be to offer companionship to the elderly. Ratan Tata, a renowned industrialist recently decided to invest in ‘Goodfellows,’ a start-up by Shantanu Naidu that will offer companionship to senior citizens purely as a service. As human persons, we look for companionship and more so when we are growing old. The undisclosed investment in this start-up got me interested to know more about the need for companionship for senior citizens. Ratan Tata said, “You do not know what it is like to be lonely until you spend time alone wishing companionship.” A start-up like ‘Goodfellows’ should be appreciated but there are so many Old Aged homes that are needing our attention and care. A visit to these Old Aged homes would double the joy of the senior citizens and the elderly seeking for attention in these homes or a visit to the old aged who are left alone at home due to their children working abroad, etc.
According to research done in the Varsity of California in 2002 by Dara Sorkin, Karen S. Rook, and John L. Lu, two social deficits lead older adults or the elderly to loneliness and furthermore to impending health issues or a heart condition. The two social deficits being unmet desires for emotional support and companionship. Loneliness can be a demotivating factor when it comes to self-care. When one is lonely one may indulge in substance abuse, lack of exercise, and poor diet. The study suggested that social relationships or companionship provide a sense of belonging and a sense of worth. Companionship bestows onto the other emotional, instrumental, and informational support. Companionship reduces feelings of loneliness and provides for greater self-esteem and trust.
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Can an artificial companion do the job for the 50 million senior citizens living all by themselves? As we are living in a technologically savvy world, we speak and hear of robots and digital bots. Vienna University of Technology research by Simone Kriglstein, and Günter Wallner in the year 2005 suggested an artificial pet called ‘Homie’. They understood that many elderlies like pets and it enhances the emotional status of a senior citizen. At first, they tried testing the elderly with a real pet but then they found that the elderly would find it difficult to take care of the pet so an artificial pet was decided upon. An artificial pet would be wired to produce certain emotions. They called this artificial pet ‘Homie,’ it would be able to emote happiness, sadness, anger, hopefulness, alertness, and interestedness. But what they found difficult was to adjust or adapt the ‘Homie’ to the psychological background of the elderly owner. The artificial pet was a disappointment due to the technical constraints it displayed. Although the artificial pet entertained the elderly, it failed to make the elderly feel secure.
In 2009, the Delft University of Technology and the University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam and Leiden discussed assistive social robots in taking care of the elderly. The research was done by Joost Broekens, Marcel Heerink, and Henk Rosendal who said that assistive social robots help the elderly in two ways i.e. functional and affective. Although the assistive social robots were suggested for reasons like, there would be a shortage of staff to take care of the aging elderly and the elderly find it difficult to take shelter elsewhere other than their own homes, the assistive social robots supported in two ways: they were either service type robots or companion type robots. And the study suggested that both these robots had a positive impact on the emotional state and the health of the elderly but the study was quite limited. The study suffered the same drawbacks that the artificial pet study faced.
We have identified that companionship promotes quality of life and it is important to be walking alongside the elderly to give them those happy moments towards the end of their lives. A companionship start-up if worked out well can intervene at the individual, community, and social level of the old aged. The companions like grandkids can help the elderly indulge in fun activities; whether indoor or outdoor. The companions would be able to assist in discussions among the elderly. The companions would lessen the burden and anxiety the elderly face in fetching medicines, groceries or payment of bills, etc. The companions if up-to-date would be able to guide the elderly and keep them abreast with the trending technological advancements. The companions would make it easier for the older adults to be a part of support groups which they need very especially during aging.
Happily At Home
Not all need companionship sometimes. As mature as an individual is, sometimes the elderly need just to be taken care of due to their fragility. And a start-up like ‘Goodfellows’ and the Old Aged homes can definitely provide for this in their own way. St. Jeane Jugan whose feast we celebrate on August 29th was a companion to the elderly half paralyzed blind and dying women. Her little gesture of offering her home to the isolated lonely elderly women made her a wanting companion. Today her followers Little Sisters of the Poor carry on the task with the same grace, silence, and gentleness. We need more companions to cater to the growing number of the elderly most especially in our country. Hats off to Ratan Tata for investing on ‘Goodfellows’ a companionship start-up. A start-up that should start triggering in us the need to offer ourselves to others as dear companions in this life’s journey.
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