Ninety percent of seniors prefer to remain in their own homes during their golden years; however, the reality is that successful independent living requires certain skills.
If just one of these vital skills is missing, self-care can be a serious problem, leading to safety, comfort and health issues.
Like baking, these ingredients─these skills─combine to help us age in place, right where we choose to age.
Learn what “aging in place” is here. It’s about remaining where you choose to live during retirement, proactively choosing your own lifestyle by remaining healthy, well and independent, rather than having that decision taken out of your hands
Living independently encompasses more than just a basic ability to care for oneself. Here are five skills we feel are indispensable.
1. Physical strength to prevent falls and handle self-care.
Falls are dangerous. They lead to life-threatening injuries, hospitalization, even death. They’re also a common trigger for declining health, which undermines our ability to take care of ourselves.
Balance issues that lead to falls happens as a result of poor muscle strength in our lower body, so it’s very important to avoid letting them become weak. It can easily happen from a sedentary lifestyle.
Taking fitness and activity seriously enough to maintain a basic amount of body strength is essential for fall prevention.
Are all falls a result of body weakness? No, but many of them are, so basic body strength maintenance is a skill that can’t be avoided. Even five or ten minutes a day can make a difference, although the ideal is thirty minutes or more every day.
To complement body strength, taking steps to modify our home to be a safe environment as our needs change is also important. It might not be a personal skill, but it is critical for a better outcome.
As our physical needs change, we need to adapt our environment to accommodate those changes. Even someone who goes for a daily walk to keep their body strong can benefit at some point from grab bars in the bathroom, reachable items in kitchen cabinets, or an easier way to manage stairs.
Stronger muscles also ensure we can dress and undress, get in and out of bed, bathe and attend to other personal hygiene tasks without requiring assistance from others. How effectively we can accomplish these tasks (with or without supportive resources to accomplish them) determines whether we can live at home safely and comfortably on our own.
2. The ability to obtain food and prepare meals.
It’s unavoidable… We all need a certain amount of food to survive and balanced nutrition keeps us far healthier than a constant diet of processed meals. It’s impossible to remain independent without the right fuel. The ability to feed ourselves a healthy meal is essential.
Remaining independent doesn’t require becoming a gourmet cook, however. If grocery shopping or preparing meals is a struggle, putting resources in place to deliver ingredients or prepared healthy meals are readily available to fill the gap. However, we must be able to handle basics of warming the food and feeding ourselves to remain independent.
Can we hire private duty home care or family caregivers to provide meals and serve them? Yes, but someone who needs this higher level of care may require a care environment for their own safety, especially if they live alone.
3. Available transportation for activities outside of the home.
Everyone needs to leave the house occasionally. Doctor visits, physical therapy, socializing with family or friends and other activities are important components to our wellbeing and health.
Even someone who prefers to be less social must be able to manage important activities out of the home. It’s also critical in providing companionship and reducing isolation, which impacts mental and physical health. If someone is unable to provide their own transportation or arrange for it, or doesn’t have the stamina required to leave the home, they’re not able to live independently.
4. Age-appropriate cognitive abilities.
A small amount of dementia or memory challenges are normal once we’re past a certain age, but going beyond these norms can mean a loss of the ability to live independently. Confusion impacts self-care, transportation or the ability to arrange it, and every other aspect of our life, from simple logistics of getting through the day to physical and mental health. If we are influenced by a major change in cognitive abilities, our ability to remain home can be involuntarily lost… exchanged for a memory care environment.
For those proactively focused on remaining home, pursuing brain fitness activities and a healthy lifestyle helps us retain cognitive abilities that are normal for our age, even prevent or delay dementia. Much of its onset or avoidance is within our power to control.
5. A preference for a lifestyle of health and wellness.
Attitude is everything when it comes to successful aging in place. Strong attitudes and a preference for health, wellness and wellbeing drive the very activities more likely to keep us independent longer. It also allows us to prevent isolation, depression and loneliness that can add to our decline.
Much of successful aging is determined by the choices we make every day. Do we eat the salad or the sandwich, the fries or the apple? Take the stairs or the elevator? Skip our annual exam and dental cleaning or do them? Buy the prescription or pocket the money? Have dinner with friends or stay home? Small decisions accumulate into a larger state of wellness.
If you’re serious about living independently, proactive behavior and prevention determine your future. It’s the smart path.
For those interested in taking control over their choice to age at home by adopting a lifestyle of health and wellness, a continuing care at home membership can be a smart choice. It combines a proactive lifestyle with resources to obtain and pay for long-term care, should it become eventually necessary.
Sun Health at Home is the first CCaH program in the southwestern United States, and the only one available in Arizona.
(Originally published Feb. 28, 2018; last updated Jan. 6, 2019.)