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Ageing – is there a place for business in the space of loneliness?

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Perhaps I don’t need to remind you of one of the more significant impacts of longevity for many of us – becoming single again.

As most elderly couples will not die together, one of them will become single again in later life. They probably won’t have the same feelings or experiences they had many moons ago when they were the original, young and carefree single.  It’s complicated.

As social commentators describe it – later life singlehood can be a disorientating event. Finding your place or purpose, at the end of a relationship that may have spanned aeons, can be an ascent into a new place and happiness for some, or a descent into redundancy and loneliness for others.

Mortal death in a relationship, however, is not the only cause for the dichotomy of reactions for the single, elderly person. Another event is now infiltrating into our later life world – the spectre of incapacity of a partner, most commonly caused by dementia. It can be a form of death in a relationship. It can turn the afflicted partner into an alien.

Even more, in advanced stages of the condition, if the partner is in an aged care facility and the other partner is still living capably at home, it can create singlehood by default for the one remaining in the home. The sense of dislocation gives rise to a more complex form of loneliness. In many ways, it can be more poignant than losing a partner to death. A person can feel they are living in parallel universes – dutifully visiting their partner in the facility and maintaining a semblance of a relationship but, at the same time, having most of their time to themselves at home, when they are not visiting.

This sense of being a ‘relationship refugee’ can incite the most insidious form of loneliness arising from being in, and going between, two worlds – a twilight zone between being alone with yourself at home or being alone with someone else, somewhere else.

Always keen to explore opportunities in the expanding world of human services, entrepreneurs are as I write, identifying this social development and assessing business service models to address later loneliness. It is the business of loneliness. It is curiously counter-digital as well – it is hard to digitise real, live, human interaction and the warmth and empathy that comes with it. High tech can’t substitute for high touch.

Ironically, perhaps, one of the potential spurs to the business interest in providing human company for the later lonely is a perceived deficit in the current home care sector. The most common complaint I hear from home care recipients (including my parents) is that the carers don’t have time for a ‘cuppatea’.

In fact, burdened by the fight to survive, many home care organisations are forced to run a tight ship where carers are limited to very strict times for specific tasks, compounded by the need to satisfy a healthy quota of clients each day – bit like GP’s and their standard average consultation time of 12 minutes. As a result, there may be a desire to chat but, for a carer, there is simply no time to. They are limited to hands on domestic duties and/or clinical care. There is no relationship care. Chatting is not an accepted element of caring yet.

Added to these limitations of course is the diaspora of absentees – the adult children spread far and wide around the planet who cannot commune regularly with their parents at all.

So, in this context, what would the opportunities be for a service targeted just to chatting or providing company to older people living at home or indeed even in an aged care facility? Let’s start with a basic question – its name. What would the business be called? Here are some ideas:

  • ‘The Company Company’
  • ‘Hire a Heart’
  • ‘Helping Hearts’
  • ‘Rent a Friend’
  • ‘Need a Neighbour’
  • ‘Share a Care’
  • ‘Companions Queensland’
  • ‘The Companion Shop’
  • ‘Friends Indeed’
  • ‘The Present of Presence’

It could be an interesting place to start a discussion.

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