Aging brings with it a range of concerns, and for many people, one of the biggest worries is how to maintain their independence. Getting older can make it more difficult to live an independent lifestyle, for example, due to mobility issues, cognitive decline, or general ill health. While it may be impossible to halt the aging process (for now, at least!), the good news is that there are several steps you can take to help you maintain your independence for as long as possible.
The best approach is a holistic one, in which you address a wide range of physical, mental, and emotional factors in order to get the optimum result. This article goes through some of the most important of these, with suggestions for how you can improve each one. Remember, it’s never too late to make a change, and even small actions can add up to a big difference in your quality of life, no matter how old you are.
Why is it important to be independent as you age?
Before going into the specifics of how to maintain your independence later in life, it is worth discussing why this issue is such an important one. A loss of independence can lead to a lower sense of self-worth and reduced confidence and, in some cases, may make people feel as though they are a burden on their loved ones (even though this is often not an opinion their family shares). In addition, maintaining a happy and independent life can boost both your mental and physical health. It can also give you a greater sense of purpose, which is crucial for well-being, quality of life, and even longevity.
With that in mind, here are seven ways in which you can maintain your independence as you age.
1. Stay physically active
Physical fitness is important at any age but becomes particularly crucial as you get older. This is for several reasons. Firstly, having good levels of strength and balance can reduce your chances of having a fall – something many seniors worry about. Secondly, being physically active can lower your risk of developing a number of harmful health conditions, including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. This can make it less likely that you’ll have a heart attack or stroke. Finally, exercise is also good for your mental well-being. It helps to boost your mood and can lessen feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Don’t worry if you hate going running or to the gym, though, because there are plenty of other ways in which you can stay physically active as you age. These include:
- Going for long walks in the countryside (which also gets you extra benefits such as fresh air, exposure to sunlight, and time in nature)
- Doing yoga, pilates, dance, or tai chi
- Attending exercise classes specifically designed for older people (which also has the advantage of being social)
- Doing active hobbies around the house, such as gardening
- Going swimming at the local pool
The best approach is to find an activity that you genuinely enjoy so that exercise doesn’t feel like a chore. That way, you’re more likely to stick with it and put in greater effort. If you can bring a friend along with you, that’s even better!
2. Eat healthily
You’re probably already well aware that a healthy diet is key, but just like with exercise, it gets more important as you age. It can be more difficult to ensure that you get all the vitamins and minerals you need as you get older because your overall calorie requirements tend to decrease. That means you need to take care to make every meal a balanced and nutritious one. Be sure to eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, paying particular attention to including foods rich in iron, calcium, and vitamin C. Whole grains, lentils, beans, nuts, and seeds are also good choices, and you can always take a supplement if you’re concerned that you’re not getting all the nutrients you require.
Conversely, it’s best to avoid eating too much salt because this can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease. You also want to avoid drinking too much alcohol and having too many sugary drinks or snacks (although the occasional sweet treat is ok!). As a general rule, try to cook meals at home with fresh ingredients rather than rely on frozen ready-meals or microwaveable options from the supermarket. If you can’t cook or prefer not to do so, a home delivery service can be a great alternative – or you could try joining a cooking class!
3. Make adjustments at home
One way to help ensure that you can stay living at home independently for as long as possible is to make some adjustments to your house. For some people, this might mean downsizing or moving to a bungalow, so there’s no issue with stairs. However, it doesn’t have to involve leaving the home you love. Some of the other options include:
- Handrails in the bathtub
- A seat in the shower
- A stairlift on the staircase
- Power-assisted rising chairs to make sitting down and standing up easier
- Nightlights to avoid tripping in the dark
- Lever taps that are easier to use than the ones you need to twist
- Putting items on lower shelves
- A ramp to reach the front door from outside
- Widening door frames
- Lowering kitchen counters
It’s sometimes possible to get financial assistance from the council to pay for these adaptations, so be sure to do some research and find out what you’re eligible for. This will usually involve having a visit from a social worker or occupational therapist, who will assess your needs and make some recommendations.
Your local fire service can also offer you a free home safety visit to fit smoke alarms and advise you on fire prevention and other safety measures. This can include installing specialist alarms for those with visual or hearing impairments. Lastly, it might be worth considering having a personal alarm or fall detector for extra peace of mind.
4. Consider a care home
People often think of moving to a care home as being a sign that you’re losing your independence. However, many assisted living facilities are not like that at all. They can provide you with just the right amount of support to allow you to continue living independently while benefiting from a wide range of facilities, activities, and medical care on hand.
For example, the Signature Care Home offers private apartments with their own bathrooms and kitchenettes. They also have a restaurant, cafe, lounge, cinema, hair salon, and library on site. Bear in mind that assisted living doesn’t have to be permanent – many people choose to spend time in such facilities on a temporary basis after having surgery or in similar situations.
Another benefit of moving into a care home is the opportunities it provides for activities and socializing. Most assisted living facilities run fitness classes, craft workshops, and similar events, which give you the chance to learn new skills, make new friends and pick up new hobbies. All of these help you to stay physically active and mentally stimulated, as well as stave off loneliness and social isolation. Of course, making the decision to leave your home is never easy, so take your time with it, discuss the matter with your family, and ensure it’s a choice you’re all comfortable with.
5. Stay mentally active
Just as it’s important to keep physically fit, staying mentally active as you get older is vital for maintaining your independence. It can help stave off dementia, memory loss, and other forms of cognitive decline, as well as boost your focus, concentration, and attention span. Plus, if you do it the right way, it should be lots of fun too!
There is an almost endless variety of options when it comes to keeping your brain active. Here are just a few to get you inspired:
- Read books in a wide variety of fiction genres and on a broad range of non-fiction topics
- Do the daily crossword in the paper
- Work your way through different types of puzzle books
- Visit art galleries and museums
- Learning a new language
- Read the news every day
- Take lessons in a musical instrument
- Watch documentaries on TV or at the cinema
- Try special brain training games, maths games, or even play regular video games
- Play board games such as chess or card games
- Do some volunteer work with an organization you care about
- Take a course in a subject you’ve always wanted to study
- Start a daily meditation practice
- Learn a new skill such as knitting
- Keep up to date with new technology and other developments
One of the most important points to remember is that age is not a barrier to learning. If you believe that you can improve yourself, you are much more likely to succeed at it. Also, don’t smoke – this has been linked to an increase in cognitive decline.
6. Maintain an active social life
Interestingly, one of the biggest risks facing older people in our society today is loneliness. The harm of social isolation is perhaps something everyone became more aware of during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s worth repeating here. Studies have suggested that social isolation can cause a higher risk of conditions such as depression, dementia, stroke, and even premature death. This is particularly important to bear in mind if you live alone and don’t have family nearby.
Thankfully, there is a wealth of different ways that you can boost your social life as you get older. For example, you can begin by searching for clubs in your local area. This could be anything from a walking group or book club to hobby groups, volunteer societies, and senior coffee mornings. Don’t feel that you need to restrict yourself to events specifically for older people either – mixing with people from younger generations can be a great way to keep yourself young!
If you can’t commit to a regular engagement, one-off events are a fantastic alternative. They’re also a good way to test the waters if you’re nervous about meeting new people. Lastly, if you struggle to get out and about, you could consider a virtual meetup instead.
7. Visit the doctor regularly
Most people probably don’t visit the doctor as often as they should. However, like the majority of the topics in this article, doing so only becomes increasingly important as you age. This is partly because your risk of developing certain medical conditions goes up as you get older, but also because the sooner such problems are discovered, the greater chance you have of a treatment being successful. That’s why it’s key that as soon as you notice any symptoms that concern you, you have them checked out. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and you can rest assured that the doctor won’t think you’ve wasted their time if it turns out to be nothing.
It’s not only the doctor, either. It would be best if you went for regular eye tests and hearing tests to check whether you need glasses or a hearing aid. Sometimes the decline in your senses is slow enough that you don’t notice it without going for a checkup, but the impact on your quality of life can still be significant. After all, no one wants to have to struggle to read the newspaper or to hear what people are saying in a conversation!