How can we help adults maintain independence as they age? 

Aging in place

Learn about the importance of independence for aging adults and how you can ensure your loved ones remain independent in their golden years. 

Summary 

  • Aging adults who need assistance can still maintain their independence in various ways. 
  • Older adults can enjoy independent living by making modifications around the house, using technology, being involved in their communities, and building networks. 
  • Independence gives them a sense of self-worth, confidence, and purpose. 
  • There are many things you can do to ensure your loved ones maintain their independence as they age. These include them enabling them to remain active, modifying their home, investing in technology, and sticking to a schedule. 

Those of us who are privileged enough to experience aging will remark at the changes in our bodies and minds—this is natural.  

However, when these changes start happening to our parents, our grandparents, and other aging loved ones, it can cause significant stress. 

If your mother who once finished marathons suddenly struggles to climb the stairs, it will undoubtedly be an adjustment—for yourself and her. 

Statistics from the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) predict that by 2060, the number of Americans above the age of 65 will have reached almost 95 million. PRB figures also indicate an increase in life expectancy and that older adult may continue working for longer. 

As adults start living longer, the responsibilities of family members and healthcare providers will increase. 

However, just because your parents now require help with everyday tasks, doesn’t mean they can’t be independent. There are still things they can do to live a life with purpose and dignity. 

In this article, we’ll go into detail about the importance of independent living and what you can do to empower aging adults.   

Why is independence important to aging adults? 

It can be very difficult for those in the process of aging to accept that they need help with daily tasks.  

By the time they retire, most people have had careers, raised families, and enjoyed the ability to make decisions on their own—giving all of this up can be challenging. 

Independence gives us a sense of self-worth, purpose, and confidence.  

Do you remember the first time you were able to ride a bike on your own? That feeling is priceless–no one wants to put their training wheels back on. 

But independence doesn’t mean doing everything on your own. And when people have reached a certain age it sometimes isn’t possible—or practical—to keep living alone, cooking their own meals, or residing in an apartment on the fifth floor. 

So if independence is so important, how can we ensure that our loved ones stay independent once aging begins to impact their quality of life? Keep reading to find out. 

How can loss of independence affect an adult? 

It can be traumatic for an aging adult to lose their independence.. When an older person loses their ability to take care of themselves, they could: 

  • Experience social isolation because they can’t travel to their friends and family. 
  • No longer be able to enjoy their hobbies. 
  • See a decrease in their physical health because they feel demotivated to exercise. 
  • Lose muscle mass due to lack of exercise and an imbalanced diet. 
  • Lose their sense of identity. 
  • Experience frustration, pain, anxiety, or fear. 
  • Lose their self-confidence and their dignity. 
  • Develop difficulties focusing or remembering things. 

What are the benefits of remaining independent as you age? 

One of the biggest advantages to remaining independent as you advance is being able to live at home or age in place.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines aging in place as “[t]he ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.” 

Data obtained from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) showed that almost 80% of people over the age of 50 wish to live in their homes for the long term. 

Growing older at home is of major importance to many aging adults as it gives them freedom, purpose, comfort, and stability. 

Source: Pexels

Does being independent mean I have to live alone? 

Being independent doesn’t equal being alone or living in solitude, even though this may be a common perception. 

Aging adults can live with other people—family members, peers, or caregivers—and still maintain some form of independence. 

Independence can mean different things to different people and our understanding of the concept may change as we age. 

What are some risk factors that contribute to loss of independence? 

Loss of independence isn’t always sudden—unless it is caused by certain illnesses or injuries that leave you unable to care for yourself. Most times it happens slowly. 
With the correct planning and preparations, you can increase your loved one’s quality of life and ensure they maintain as much of their independence as possible. 

What are some risk factors that contribute to loss of independence? 

Loss of independence isn’t always sudden—unless it is caused by certain illnesses or injuries that leave you unable to care for yourself. Most times it happens slowly. 

With the correct planning and preparations, you can increase your loved one’s quality of life and ensure they maintain as much of their independence as possible. 

Here are some of the risk factors that affect aging adults’ independence: 

  • Poor physical health: When they can no longer cope with the activities of daily living (ADL), such as washing, dressing, and feeding themselves. Failing eyesight and hearing can also make it more difficult for adults to complete simple tasks. 
  • Poor mental health: Anxiety disorders, sleep disturbances, and overall reduced cognitive abilities can make it difficult and unsafe to perform duties. 
  • Social isolation: According to the American Psychological Association (APS), social isolation and loneliness increase the risk of premature death, and older adults are most at risk as they experience limited social interactions. 
  • Living in unfavorable conditions or environments: Living arrangements that are unsuitable for aging adults can cause them to become withdrawn or depressed. 
  • No longer leaving the house: Older people who are unable to leave the house due to physical limitations can become restless, irritable, and anxious. 
  • Having limited resources: A lack of financial resources can lead to many problems in an older person’s life. Limited access to health care, proper foods, or equipment that can make their home safer, can seriously impact their independence. 

How to maintain independence while aging 

There are several benefits to maintaining independence while aging—for the person experiencing aging and for their families and friends.  

Those who can take care of themselves are more likely to have fewer frustrations and increased confidence, joy, and freedom.  

They can save on the costs of assisted living and nursing home facilities, as well as in-home care services.  

According to data from a recent survey, the average cost of nursing home facilities ranges between $7,980 and $9,034 per month, while home health aides cost over $5,000 per month to employ. 

This may be hard news to hear—especially for those of us who were saving to travel the world or for a vacation home after retirement. 

Not everyone gets to spend their golden years on a tropical island, but these years don’t have to be spent in a nursing home either. There are many things that can be done to ensure aging loved ones maintain their independence. 

Prioritize physical health 

It goes without saying that physical health contributes to overall health and well-being. Studies have shown a clear link between health and independence. 

With physical strength and good health, aging adults are better equipped to complete daily tasks and to keep their independence for longer. 

According to Harvard Health, muscle mass declines after age 30, and this can cause weakness and decreased mobility.  

Exercise—especially progressive resistance training (PRT)—can help you build and strengthen your muscles, which decreases the risk of falls and other injuries.  

Good physical health can also help aging adults maintain social connections, which is another important factor we’ll discuss below. 

Source: Unsplash

Prioritize mental health 

Despite the fact that a recent study by the American Psychological Association (APS) showed shifting attitudes toward mental health, there’s still a stigma attached to it. 

Much like physical health, mental health is important and should be prioritized by people of all ages.  

However, it becomes even more important for aging adults to take care of their mental well-being, as poor mental health can worsen chronic conditions and increase the risk of disorders like dementia and depression. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 20% of adults over 60 struggle with mental or neurological disorders, and this number is set to increase as the population of aging adults grows. 

By taking proactive steps, you can keep older folks intellectually stimulated and decrease their risk of developing mental disorders. 

Maintain social connections 

Social connections are essential to all human beings, and they may be the most important part of healthy aging.  

Older people who have regular, meaningful interactions with others tend to live longer and manage existing health conditions better.  

As adults age, they may have fewer social connections due to: 

  • Difficulties moving around or leaving the house. 
  • Retiring from work or changes in living arrangements. 
  • Limited funds or income. 
  • Losing family, friends, or a partner. 
  • No longer being able to drive or get around safely on their own. 

Research has shown that social connectedness provides support, reduces loneliness, and gives older adults a sense of independence. 

Source: Unsplash

Plan for your future 

By planning ahead, you can ensure that you and your loved ones have adequate resources to maintain independence as they grow old.  

Even aging adults who do not need to go to nursing homes may require things like home health aides, personal shopping services, or home modifications that make it easier to age in place. 

There may also be times when someone’s current residence isn’t suitable for aging adults and relocation may be required.  

Changes like these are costly. To decrease the financial strains that come with aging, planning in advance is vital. 

Make changes around the home 

For adults who choose to age in place, changes around the home may be necessary—especially if they have mobility issues. 

Depending on the nature of their requirements, home modifications can be small or extensive. 

If your loved ones would like to age in place, it’s a good idea to visit them and make notes on areas where they struggle to complete daily tasks.  

For example, if the countertops are too high for their wheelchair or they struggle to open the kitchen faucet, note this and help them to make the required changes. 

Maintaining a safe, comfortable home where an aging adult can move around without fear of injury will give both you and your loved one peace of mind. 

Purchase practical clothing 

It may not be an obvious factor, but clothing choices can play a big role in helping older adults maintain their independence. 

Comfortable clothes that are easy to put on and take off can give aging adults more control by allowing them to choose the clothes they wear. 

The right fashion choices can also keep adults safer by promoting better blood flow and an improved range of motion, which may help them to avoid falls. 

Aging adults should try to avoid clothing that: 

  • Is tight or restrictive. 
  • Chafes the skin or causes discomfort. 
  • Has fastenings that are difficult to tie or loosen, such as clasps (avoiding this type of clothing is especially important for adults suffering from arthritis). 
  • Should be pulled over the head (some older adults may struggle to lift their arms). 

Practical articles of clothing that are better suited to aging adults include: 

  • Loose-fitting pants and tops made of soft fabric. 
  • Clothing with Velcro or button closures. 
  • Cardigans or jackets that can are easy to put on and take off. 
  • Clothing that requires little or no ironing. 
  • Simple accessories, such as scarves and hats. 

Stick to a schedule 

Following a schedule can help bring structure and control to an aging adult’s life.  

Waking up at the same time each morning and following a routine will give them purpose and drive, in addition to preventing the development of unhealthy habits. 

Some other benefits of sticking to a schedule include: 

  • Lowering stress and anxiety. 
  • Promoting better sleep. 
  • Making it easier to schedule time for hobbies and leisure activities. 

How can we help ourselves and our aging loved ones remain independent? 

Living independently can empower older adults in several different ways. To help your loved ones—and yourself when you reach that age—there are many things you can do. 

Healthy aging is an ongoing process and you don’t have to wait until you’re sixty or seventy before you start putting plans in place to avoid losing your independence.  

The sooner you start, the greater your chances of growing old with grace and freedom. 

Invest in technology 

The world is changing and you should change with it. A simple thing like being able to order your groceries from your smartphone can give you a sense of independence and accomplishment—not to mention saving on the cost of a personal shopper! 

Technology can help keep aging adults safe and secure—think about alarms, medical alert devices, and remote activity monitoring services. 

But technological and digital advancements don’t just help aging adults—they are useful to their caregivers and families, as well.  

For example, cameras and motion sensors can help family members keep an eye on the movements of their loved ones at any time. 

Medical alert devices serve a similar function and Logicmark boasts models that can be worn on the wrist or around the neck—these allow for two-way communication between a loved one and their family member(s) or emergency personnel.  

Be involved in the community 

Even if your mom or dad no longer has a 9 to 5 job, they can still find purpose by getting involved in the community—whether it be volunteering at the local school or library, or baking cookies for the church bazaar. 

Community involvement helps aging adults maintain connections, which reduces stress, restores self-worth, and improves physical health. 

Build networks 

Whether these networks are online or offline, they’re essential for maintaining and improving cognitive abilities, as well as the mental and physical well-being of older adults. 

Having a network can make older folks feel less lonely and create a sense of community. This is especially important for those who live on their own and don’t see people often.  

Older people who have networks also tend to feel more supported. For example, if there’s a nighttime emergency, it’s good to have people who can be relied upon to help. 

Mentor someone 

With age comes wisdom—this is why older people often make such great mentors.  

In addition to having more experience than younger mentors, older mentors often possess other qualities—like empathy and patience—that make them assets in their fields. 

Sharing knowledge and skills with others can be an incredibly rewarding experience for an aging adult. 

Get a part-time job 

If an aging adult is still fit enough to work for a few hours per week, this is a great option. There are many reasons why retired people choose to keep working.  

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the labor force of people 75 years and older will increase by 96.5% during the next decade. 

Whether due to financial reasons, loneliness, or purely wanting to have a schedule or purpose, more people are looking for jobs during retirement. 

Focus on what you can do 

This comes back to independence meaning different things to different people.  

To a twenty-year-old, independence may look like having your own apartment and paying your bills on time each month. But an 80-year-old may have a different understanding of the term. 

For an aging adult, independence may mean being able to: 

  • Order their own groceries by phone or online. 
  • Go to the bathroom by themselves. 
  • Improving medication management.  
  • Take a shower or bath unassisted. 
  • Prepare a meal. 
  • Perform online banking. 
  • Move around the house on their own. 

Can adults in assisted living facilities still be independent? 

Absolutely. Requiring assistance doesn’t mean you’re no longer independent. Assisted living facilities also give aging adults many opportunities to socialize, utilize community resources, organize events, and participate in activities that give them a sense of identity and keep their mental faculties sharp. 

What can I do to help my loved ones maintain independence during old age? 

Do you have concerns about your aging loved ones?  

Maybe your mother lives far away and doesn’t want to give up the privacy of her home, or your father refuses to leave his apartment even though it can’t be modified to suit his changing needs. 

You can use technology to keep them safe and LogicMark can help. 

Our devices can provide your loved ones with the freedom they desire and give you the peace of mind YOU deserve. 

Contact us to learn more about how our devices can work for you and the people you love most.