5 Tips to Help Seniors Stay Independent for as Long as Possible

While growing older can bring wisdom and a greater sense of self-acceptance, it can also be marked by diminishing physical abilities. Still, a majority of Americans want to age in place, living in their own homes for as long as possible.

If you’re a senior noticing changes that are making it more difficult to accomplish everyday tasks, or if you’re caring for an older parent or loved one and want to respect their wishes while making sure they’re safe, these tips are important steps in ensuring independence for years to come. 

  1. Make sure your home is safe. Falls can be devastating; they are the leading cause of injuries that put older people in the hospital.
  • Make a few modifications to your environment to make it easier to get around: Place grab bars in the shower/tub and near the toilet. They might be handy near steps leading into the house, too. If need be, use a shower chair and hand-held shower.
  • Eliminate throw rugs and runners to avoid tripping and falling.
  • If you wear tint-changing lenses, take them off upon entering the home so that you can see better, or wait until the lens adjusts to the dark interior. If you wear readers or bifocals, be cautious on stairs.
  • Some prescription medications and over-the-counter painkillers (especially those with a “PM” in their names) can make you dizzy, and that can lead to a fall. Talk to your doctor about safer alternatives.

Your local Area Agency on Aging likely offers a home injury control program to help you with home safety basics. You might also consider calling an occupational therapist or a Certified Aging-in-Place (CAP) specialist for more complex projects. To find a CAP specialist in your area, call the National Association of Home Builders at 800-368-5242 or go online to nahb.org and visit the page called “Find a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist” at nahb.org.

Seniors might also check out A Matter of Balance, a class offered by many Area Agencies on Aging throughout Michigan. It helps older adults learn to work on balance, prevent falls, reduce their fear of falling, and build confidence and be more active. Call (833) 262-2200.

  1. Stay physically active. It will increase your mobility and energy, reduce depression and may lower the risk of developing dementia.
  • Exercising first thing in the morning gets your day started right, but any time you can move is fine. You can walk alone or with your dog or do household chores or outside tasks like raking. If it’s too cold outside for you, try mall walking. If you can’t find 30 minutes to do it all at once, break it down in three, 10-minute periods.
  • Try new activities to stay interested in moving. That might be an exercise video or a tai chi class at the local senior center, or swimming at a local rec center.
  • Exercise can be inexpensive or free. If you like walking, invest in a pair of non-skid shoes. For strength, use soup cans or water bottles as free weights. Your local senior center may offer free or low-cost exercise classes.

Talk to your doctor before you start an exercise plan. If your doctor or physical therapist recommends that you use a cane or a walker, take their advice seriously, says Vikki Rochester, a community health worker with the Area Agency on Aging 1-B.  “If you’re not using it, you may be in your own way. Is it worse to not be able to get out because you’re afraid of falling or use something? We tell people that an assistive device like a cane or walker is not a bad thing.”

  1. Stay socially engaged. Interacting with others stimulates the mind and may also help preserve your memory.
  • Interact with family, friends, or even co-workers. Make it a point to dine with others. Some senior centers offer group meals where you can enjoy a low-cost lunch with peers.
  • Volunteer doing something you like or with an organization you support. Meals on Wheels is a great way to help others.
  • Visit a lonely neighbor or friend.
  • Take a class to learn and meet other people. Join a spiritual center, hiking club, book club, or theatre group.
  • Use your local senior center facility and programming.
  • Build connections with people of different ages.

“Social isolation can lead to all sorts of issues, like depression,” says Kristy Mattingly, co-director of the Area Agency on Aging 1-B’s Community Living Program. The agency can offer a friendly visitor or telephone reassurance.

  1. Make sure you can get to where you need to go. If you own a car but don’t feel comfortable driving, or are considering retiring from driving, there are a variety of programs you can tap.
  • Myride2, a program of the Area Agency on Aging 1-B, helps you find transportation options, gives tips for older drivers and offers travel training to learn how to use public transportation. Call 855-697-4332 or go to myride2.com.
  • AARP offers programs to help continue to drive as long as safely possible. These programs include the Smart Driver refresher course, which is offered in a classroom setting or online. Call 877-846-3299 or go to aarp.org/auto/driver-safety/driving-skills-refresh/ for more information.
  • CarFit – an educational program that offers older adults the opportunity to check how well their personal vehicles “fit” them. Go to car-fit.org for more information.
  • The State of Michigan has many resources for older drivers, family and friends, law enforcement and medical professionals at michigan.gov/agingdriver.
  • Check out regional public transportation options.
  • Your local senior center might offer a shuttle to take you to and from the center.

“The life expectancy for most Americans exceeds their driving ability by seven to 10 years, making it even more important to have mobility coordination and transportation options to allow individuals to age in place,” says AAA 1-B’s mobility manager, Roberta Habowski.

  1. Plan ahead. You can get most of the support you need in your home, usually at a cost. But think about how your current living situation will work as your abilities and health change over time.
  • If it’s getting more difficult to dress yourself or wash your hair, consider hiring an in-home aide a few hours each day. Help may be available for lower-income seniors through Area Agencies on Aging or the Veterans Administration.
  • If you need help raking leaves or cleaning the house, shopping for groceries or doing laundry, ask family and friends or hire a service to help outside and in.
  • If it becomes more difficult to cook, check out your local senior center to see if it offers congregate (group) meals, ask someone to bring you a meal a few times a week or look into a meal kit delivery program or a restaurant delivery service.
  • If you’re having trouble tracking household bills, ask a trusted relative to help. You may want to set up an automatic payment through your checking account.
  • Consider getting a Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) device like a bracelet or pendant that can alert emergency responders if you fall and need help.
  • Consider an advanced directive that will alert your family and emergency medical responders what your wishes are should you have an accident and be incapable of making a medical decision.
  • Check out housing options that cater to older adults. Many offer meals and activities. Assisted living buildings offer personal/medical care if you need it, along with activities.

This blog post is courtesy of the Area Agency on Aging 1-B, a nonprofit responsible for serving more than 700,000 people 60 and older in Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair and Washtenaw counties. By providing community-based services from meals to in-home care, the Area Agency on Aging 1-B enables older adults and adults with disabilities to maintain their health and independence in their homes. More information is available by calling the AAA 1-B Information and Assistance Telephone line at (800) 852-7795 or visiting www.aaa1b.org. We’ll be partnering with AAA 1-B on our new Midlife Map series. Their experts will provide monthly tips geared toward the “sandwich generation” – people in midlife facing the complicated juggling act of caring for children and older parents at the same time.

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