5 Ways to Stay Independent as You Get Older
Loss of independence can be discouraging as we get older. You have spent your entire life living independently, working jobs, raising families, and making decisions. The fact is that things change and sometimes those changes aren’t easy to accept.
The natural effects of aging can just make things harder. Difficulty with mobility, health, concentration, the loss of roles and the loss of loved ones- these can all contribute to feeling a loss of independence.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to maintain your independence. Some might mean making changes from the way you are used to doing things. But that is OK. Change makes life interesting!
First, why does it matter?
Losing independence can be mentally and physically hard. Yes, things like mobility can be harder for many reasons but it isn’t just the physical aspects of this change. The changes have been shown to lead to increased depression which can make everything worse.
It is so important to feel like the unique individual you are. When you feel like you have less control over choices throughout the day, it has a big impact on how you feel about yourself. When you are no longer managing the decisions in your life, you might feel less important.
You have lived your whole life with your own personality and beliefs. You have things you like to do and those you prefer to avoid. You have dreams and things you want to accomplish. These things are important.
5 Ways to Stay Independent as You Get Older
You can’t avoid all the effects of aging that may put up barriers to independence. However, there are a few key areas to focus on that can increase your ability to live your life as you choose.
1. Stay On Top of Your Health
Yes, going to doctor appointments can be a pain but keeping on top of your health can prevent small problems from becoming larger ones. You know the basic advice for staying healthy. Nothing new here. Just drop the excuses and make it happen.
- Eat healthy
- Get enough sleep
- Stay physically and mentally active
- Take any prescription medications as ordered
- Keep up with routine health screenings
- Get regular eye and dental exams
2. Stay Socially Connected
Having social connections is important for well being at any age. A lack of meaningful social connections is associated with reduced quality of life, unhealthy behaviors, and poor health outcomes.
This is especially important for people as they get older. When we are working and raising a family, there are social connections that arise from those activities. As those things cease, we naturally lose touch with some of the people we knew there and they often aren’t replaced.
It can be hard to put yourself out there to meet new people but it is so rewarding and so important. Getting a part time job, volunteering, joining a club around your interests- there are so many things you can do to meet new people. It can be a little intimidating, but is so worth it.
3. Have a Sense of Purpose
Loss of independence can be isolating and lead to feelings of hopelessness and depression This then has negative effects on both physical and mental health.
When you are independent it is easier to pursue activities that give a sense of purpose. Whether it be activities you have always done or something new, you do have so many opportunities for achievement and contributing to the lives of your family, friends, neighbors and strangers. The chance to set and reach goals has a big impact, even if they seem small. Independence allows you to take on the unique challenges of aging head on and overcome them with a sense of accomplishment.
Don’t let health and mobility limitations make you feel like you don’t have purpose. Find new activities you can do around your challenges. These new hurdles don’t define you, they just present a new challenge to overcome.
4. Have Your Plans In Place Before You Need Them
Legally documenting your wishes for your health and assets well before you need to is a smart way to retain control of your decisions as you age. It also removes stress from your family members and helps them ensure that your wishes are followed.
There are several types of documents you’ll want to have on hand. These include a will, a healthcare power of attorney, a power of attorney for your finances, an advanced directive, or a living trust. Some of these can even be drawn up without an attorney.
5. Stay Physically Active
This is going to be a long one. Last but probably the most important. You have to stay active. Now, active might not look like it did when you were 40. That doesn’t mean it is time to give it up.
Exercise can lower your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers. Therefore it can allow you to stay healthier longer as you get older. Check with your doctor for clearance. Then aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.
Activity is crucial to maintain or regain balance and strength. People lose muscle mass as they age. It's just a fact. Balance also tends to falter for a variety of reasons including vision and hearing loss and loss of core strength. This is not a good combination. The loss of balance and strength can lead to falls. You want to avoid falling at all costs.
In addition to the risk of injury with falls, there is another side effect that isn’t often discussed.
Once someone has a fall, they are scared of falling again. So they move and get up less- which makes them weaker. Which makes them more likely to fall again. It really is a downward spiral I have seen again and again in my years as an occupational therapist.
If you are having problems with strength and balance, what should you do? First, talk to your doctor to make sure there isn’t an underlying problem. Seek out a physical therapist or personal trainer that specializes in working with older adults. Your doctor might have some suggestions of people who specialize in this field. Working under the guidance of a professional will increase your confidence to continue the work on your own.
There is also a very real place for mobility devices like canes and walkers. Your pride might take a hit (unnecessarily I might add), but the rewards of increased independence are so worth it. Find a cane or walker you love- don’t just grab one from the CVS. This is just as important as your car and your clothes. Pick your mobility device with that amount of thought. See Ease's selection of mobility products here.
Aging is a journey. And there will be changes. Some things will get harder and adaptations will have to be made. But guess what? It doesn’t mean the beginning of the end. It means the beginning of more new adventures. Be open. Have fun. And Stay Independent.
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