What the 'Golden Girls'​ taught us about seniors and companionship

Image: What the 'Golden Girls'​ taught us about seniors and companionship

Spectrum's CEO Sandra Ketchen on what we can learn from the Golden Girls about seniors, companionship and the future of senior care.

Last week marked the 35th anniversary of the Golden Girls which was a television show ahead of its time in many ways but especially when you think about what these women taught us regarding the importance of friendship and social interaction as we age.

Some of the most innovative senior care models in the world including some leading Canadian examples have taken a page from the Golden Girls, putting social interaction and friendship at the center of senior living. The Golden Girls gave us a glimpse into the issue of senior loneliness and how friends and companionship matter at any stage of life.

We know that senior isolation is a serious mental and physical health problem for older adults. The emotional toll is hard enough but loneliness has also been shown to adversely impact health and longevity. Seniors who have regular interactions with their family, friends, and social networks are shown to live longer and healthier lives. Conversely, Welbi has a powerful infographic on the myriad of negative health effects stemming from loneliness:

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Seniors were lonely before the COVID-19 pandemic but the lockdown has amplified and exacerbated existing issues, especially within long term care facilities. Families have been separated from loved ones for months and even now have limited access to protect all those living together. Many families make the difficult choice of moving parents and grandparents to facilities because they are unable to cope as caregivers or don’t have access to other options such as private funding. What if these caregivers could be better supported by broader investments in the public home care system, allowing their senior parents to stay with their families, emotionally connected and surrounded by those they love the most?

While not everyone will have a group of “Golden Girls” to age alongside, and knowing that home care may not be a solution in all situations, we do know the following is true:

  • Seniors want to age at home. In a recent poll by Home Care Ontario, 91% of Canadians found it appealing to stay in a home of their own choice (not necessarily their current home) and be close to family and friends. Home care can help them do that for as long as possible.
  • Senior couples want to age together. In Canada “first available bed” policies can create situations of spousal separation. What if couples could age as they want together in their own home with home care support?
  • Experts agree that familiar surroundings and a home environment is best for Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, both for stalling progress of disease and symptom management. Home support can actually improve longevity and quality of life for these patients.
  • Regular interaction with family, friends, and community strengthens seniors’ physical and mental health. It allows them to continue contributing to their communities and stay connected to the lives they have built.

Seniors (and the rest of us as well) need human interaction and support to age well both physically and mentally. Let’s find a way to better support our seniors in the safety of their own homes. Like my own parents, they’ve already told us this is where they want to stay.