We live in an "every man for himself" society at a time when we would fare better recognizing the benefits of being "all in it together." Social solidarity has a lot to say for it when it comes to our health and financial security. At the policy level, there's no better testament to the value of social solidarity than Medicare and Social Security. And, at the personal level, there's mounting evidence that we improve our health when we have a buddy.
Most older adults see many different health care providers and depend on their families to navigate their health care options and coordinate their care. Family members can be terrific health care buddies. But nearly one in four older adults are elder orphans, with no one to help them with their care questions and coordination. Imagine figuring out when to enroll in Medicare and what choices to make on your own?
The data suggest that having a health care buddy improves your health and extends your life. A buddy can provide mental, physical, emotional, social and psychological support that many older adults, particularly those living alone, are lacking. People with few or no social relationships are as likely to experience an early death as people who smoke. And, they are more likely to die prematurely than people who do not exercise or who are overweight.
People with multiple chronic conditions -- about three out of four older adults--especially need a buddy to coordinate their care. Your buddy can be anyone you trust to help ensure your health care needs are met. And you can have multiple buddies.
If you're seeing an array of doctors and other health care providers each year, you are likely getting a lot of instructions about how to care for yourself and likely are on multiple medications. It's difficult to keep track of all the things you need to do. A buddy can help keep you on track. If you don't have a buddy, consider making it your mission to find one. You might offer to be a buddy for a friend or neighbor and have that friend or neighbor be your buddy.
No matter how old you are, if you have a chronic condition, it's important to bring someone with you to your doctor's appointment. Your health care buddy serves as a second pair of eyes and ears, takes notes on what you need to do, and asks questions that you might not feel comfortable asking or might forget to ask. It's wise to have a written record of what your doctor recommends.
Similarly, it's important to have a buddy to go with you to the hospital, even if your buddy is not a family member. Your buddy can make sure you are well cared for, both while you're in hospital and when you leave the hospital. A buddy also can help prevent or reduce the chance of medical mistakes and delirium when you're moving from one care facility to another.
Your buddy can ensure you get any new prescriptions filled and that you understand how to care for yourself after you leave a care facility. Ideally, your buddy can help you with any questions or concerns you have and, if necessary, speak to your doctor on your behalf.
When it comes to your health and quality of life, buddies matter. Do your best not to go it alone.