What’s the Difference Between Companion Care and Personal Care?

Author: Peter DiMaria Peter

The primary difference between Personal Care and Companion Care is that a caregiver attending a patient who needs Personal Care will be responsible for what in the nursing terminology are called ADLs (Activities of Daily Living) and IADLs (Instrumental Activities of Daily Living). Older adults need to be able to manage ADLs and IADLs to live independently without the assistance of another person.

Companion care, in the other way, is the companionship and emotional support for seniors who are mostly healthy, to help them to live independently at home, with a better quality of living.

Personal Care

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

ADLs are those things that a person cannot live without, such as feeding, toileting, bathing, walking, dressing and changing clothes, grooming and transferring (moving from the bed to a chair, for example). That means the patients who cannot perform Activities of Daily Living on their own cannot function without a caregiver. They need the constant presence of an aid and leaving them alone puts them at risk.

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs)

IADLs are the activities we have learned as we became adults. They are also important to function in society and live a healthy independent life, but a person who cannot perform them is not at immediate risk of dying, getting hurt or becoming ill.

IADLs comprise of managing the finances, driving to appointments, shopping groceries, preparing meals, cleaning the house, managing communications (phone, mail) and managing medications, among others. Therefore, persons who cannot perform their Instrumental Activities of Daily Living also need assistance to do so, although they can function by themselves and be alone for a while if these are taken care of.

Different levels of Personal Care

ADLs and IADLs are not only a matter of yes or no. There are many levels of need. A person in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, for example, could need only reminders or someone standing by to assist them in the tasks. As Alzheimer’s develops, constant assistance with ADLs becomes a must. Other patients going through rehabilitation because of serious injuries also might need full assistance, with an aid constantly on their side, to ensure safety and avoid accidents.

Both ADLs and IADLs are better performed by someone who received specific training to do so, like Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) or Personal Care Assistants (PCAs). At Home Helpers, besides these certifications, we also assign caregivers who are experienced in doing these tasks to the clients who need them. This offers our clients an additional level of confidence, knowing that the caregiver was trained, has the experience and can help your loved one in a secure, reliable way.

The level of personal care a person needs will be determined by how many ADLs, and IADLs do they require and how much help for each of them. Assessing the level of care needed helps us to determine who is the right caregiver for each patient. Some ADLs, for example, demand a strong individual, with an assertive personality. IADLs may require a caregiver able to multitask without losing attention to detail.

Companion Care

Woman with her mom enjoying a ride

Companion care is the emotional support and companionship provided to seniors who are healthy and want to remain independent at home. Companion care is indicated in cases where an older adult suffers from loneliness, apathy, lack of motivation and/or is at risk of depression. It also may be a means of improving their general quality of life.

A caregiver providing Companion Care will spend time with the patients, talk to them and conduct activities together. These may include drawing, painting, sewing, gardening, playing cards, taking walks, organizing family photographs, organizing closets, etc. It all depends on what the patient’s major interests are. The objective is to keep them engaged and satisfied, doing things that they enjoy.

Companion Care may seem easier than personal care, but it demands a very specific type of personality. The Companion Caregiver needs to be a positive person, happy, engaging and very active.

Usually, Companion Care needs are coupled with some level of personal care needs, mostly IADLs. For example, the caregiver will prepare breakfast, take the patient to the Senior Center for exercises and socialization, remind the patient about medications, make the bed, shop for groceries, prepare a meal, watch an old movie together and build a puzzle together, mixing companionship with IADLs throughout the day.

When Companion Care is Crucial

Companion Care has a key function as adults get older and lose balance. It is important to have someone around to change a light bulb or give a hand when the client is going up or down a few steps. As we age, we lose balance and one of these simple activities could turn into a visit to a hospital emergency room. In this way, companion caregivers keep your loved ones happy and engaged, while making sure they are safe, minimizing the risk of accidents.

In this way, Companion Care is a preventive measure. It will keep older adults safe and independent, often postponing the need for help with IADLs and ADLs.

Some people also look for companionship for a loved one or themselves when they lose a spouse. We had clients in the past who successfully used the companionship of a caregiver to go through the mourning process. Our client Anne wrote us this note about that: “I don’t think I would have gotten my act together without my caregiver’s help after my husband passed away. She really helped with the process of figuring out what to do with my husband’s things". The caregiver also helped Anne to go through her husband’s things, re-organize closets, separate used clothes, organize documents and store objects in boxes.

Free In-Home Assessment

We always insist on conducting an in-home assessment with our patients and their families, before agreeing to the terms of services and costs involved. These home visits are conducted free of cost and have the objective of understanding the patient’s situation and building, together, a care plan that makes sense for everyone.

A comprehensive home assessment will also help us to understand the home conditions and verify modifications that might be necessary to increase the mobility of the patient and help the caregivers to perform their duties.

It is our philosophy to treat home care in a holistic, comprehensive way, considering from the environmental conditions of the home to the level of care needed, to the personality and skills of the caregivers which will make them perfect for each patient.

During these assessments, we can determine if a patient needs Personal Care, Companion Care or both and how much of each. We also help the families to plan for the future, as they also usually use this moment to reflect on their realities, responsibilities, ad stressful situations. And most important: whatever they decide, we are here to help!



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