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Study: Canadians Turn to Paid Companions for Home Care


A new study has found that financially-secure Canadians hire paid companions for home care and support in long-term facilities. Meanwhile, low-income Canadians face limited care options.

According to the UBC Centre for Health Services and Policy Research, the percentage of adults aged 65 and over, who received home health services, declined from 13 to nine per cent from 1995 to 2005.

To fill the gap, Canadians have resorted to paid companions, specifically home-based and facility-based companions.

Linda Outcalt conducted the study as part of the MA degree program at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C.

The new research examined the use of paid companions by older adults in the Greater Victoria and Sidney areas of B.C.

The findings appeared in the Canadian Journal on Aging (Vol. 32, No. 1. 2013).

Home-based companions

Outcalt interviewed eight adults, 62 to 96 years of age, as part of a larger study. The six females and two males employed paid companions because of physical health problems and because they wanted to remain in their own homes.

The participants hired their own companions – mostly women in their 50s and 60s – either through a private agency or by word of mouth.

These paid companions provided a wide range of services such as:

  • personal care
  • light housekeeping
  • meal preparation
  • transportation
  • laundry and ironing
  • computer assistance
  • pet care
  • gardening
  • respite, and
  • palliative care.

According to the study, the participants required two to 70 hours of service per week (two to seven days per week).

In 2010, salaries for paid companions working for private home care agencies cost an average of $13 per hour. Wages for independent companions (those not attached to an agency) were somewhat higher with an average hourly rate of $20.

The study also revealed the inclusion of "paid" in the title of paid companion had a negative connotation for many older adults.

Participants preferred to use of other terms such as personal assistant, home care worker or friend.

Moreover and importantly, the research showed the "companion-relationship" was crucial, taking precedence over domestic tasks. In other words, social and emotional support trumped practical assistance for older adults.

Facility-based companions

As well, the study suggests families are increasingly hiring paid companions to support relatives living in assisted living or long-term-care facilities.

One private home care administrator gave this example:

We had one family request where they wanted someone to take their mum to the recreation room so she could be involved, because the people in the facility were so busy that if their mum was too slow getting out of bed, they would move on to the next person. So she would miss out on stuff . . .

Facility-based companions provide one-on-one support mostly for older adults with dementia.

This includes:

  • visits and conversation
  • reading and walks
  • music
  • outings in the community, and
  • assistance with feeding.

The companions spent one to two hours with participants on each visit, and they usually saw them two to five times per week.

The demand for support is likely to increase.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, nearly 750,000 Canadians currently live with dementia or Alzheimer’s, and the number will increase to nearly 1.5 million by 2031.

Little support for families

The new study is one of the first to examine the emergence of paid companions in Canada.

The findings suggest the development of paid companions in B.C. has been fuelled by the failure of governments to adequately fund home care.

In the meantime, families struggle to pick up the caring roles that the state has abandoned.