Studies show that lonely people suffer from more health problems, including depression, than those who have developed strong social bonds and support systems. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to loneliness. Fortunately, home care agencies can help fill the gap when it comes to providing companionship and services.

“Even if you have loving children who really want to care for you, they have careers and kids of their own and can’t always be there every time you need them,” says Kit Whittington, a registered nurse and president of Seniors Home Care (SHC). “If you can get professional, compassionate in-home elder care to help with personal and household services, it goes a long way toward restoring peace of mind and harmony within the family.”

Whittington speaks from personal experience. “I was a single mom trying to raise the kids and work full time, and my grandmother had breast cancer,” she recalls. “She needed someone to look after her and get her to and from chemo, and I felt torn. Without access to adequate in-home care, I ended up resigning from my job to look after her. I soon found out that I wasn’t the only one who needed help taking care of a loved one.”

Whittington started Seniors Home Care in 1987. Today, she oversees 125 caregivers whose services are covered by long-term care insurance. SHC won a 2009 Torch Award for Superior Cust-omer Service from the Better Business Bureau, and is now on its second generation of clients. “We provide everything but skilled care, transportation, light housekeeping and meal preparation, assistance with doctor-prescribed exercises, and services such as bathing and errands,” Whittington says. “We’ll even read to you, work puzzles with you, or just listen to you. One of the most important services we offer is companionship.”

One woman, Whittington recalls, was so lonely that she would stay in bed all day, often forgetting to take her medication. That changed once a caregiver began to visit. “The client told our caregiver, ‘Now I have a reason to get up in the morning,’” Whittington recalls.

But not everyone is immediately grateful. Whittington says that people can resent their home health aide at first. “Some clients even get angry, because they think their kids don’t want to take care of them anymore,” she says. “But home care isn’t a substitute for family care; it’s a service that lets families spend more quality time with each other. We do the laundry and errands and other chores so that when the kids stop by, they can enjoy their visit with Mom or Dad.”

MedPlus Staffing’s home health division provides several levels of assistance to the elderly in their own homes. “We’re dedicated to honoring their independence and dignity despite whatever illness or disability they might have,” says president and CEO Rick Rief.

MedPlus home health services, covered by Medicare, include skilled and private duty nursing, home health aides, physical and occupational therapy, social worker consulting, personal care services, homemaker services and transportation. “We also have personnel who are specially trained to work with clients who have Alzheimer’s disease and developmental disabilities,” Rief says. “We go over and above state standards for training, because we realize how important it is to a family’s peace of mind to have highly trained people caring for their family members.”

Companionship is a key aspect in every service the company performs, Rief notes. “As our elders struggle with daily functioning, they’re reassured to know that someone is looking out for them, someone who can not only provide them with responsible, compassionate care, but can also communicate knowledgeably with their family and doctors.”

Reputation is especially important to clients and their families, Rief adds. “Of about 200 home care agencies in the area, MedPlus is among the less than 5 percent that have been rated ‘deficiency-free’ by the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services,” he says. “It means we’re doing our job right. That’s what brings our clients and their families peace of mind.”