On Your Health

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How Seniors Can Keep Independence As Long As Possible

As we get older, most of us wish to remain independent for as long as we can. Living in our own homes, being able to care for ourselves and our family members and being healthy enough to do all the things we enjoy are so important as we age.

Loss of independence due to isolation, mobility factors or health can lead to depression and frustration for seniors. They have spent the majority of their lives taking care of their own problems, making decisions, paying bills and doing the things they enjoy. To have that independence taken away can be emotionally traumatic. Being independent also helps seniors retain their sense of purpose and enjoyment as they age. 

Many adult children struggle with finding the right balance between keeping their elderly loved ones safe with the care they need while also helping them preserve their independence. The good news is that both are possible with some planning and modifications.

Since February is National Senior Independence Month, here are a few tips to help seniors keep their independence for as long as possible.

1. Make modifications to the home

For seniors living in their own homes, simple modifications can help keep the environment safe. For instance, tripping hazards like loose rugs or slick bathrooms can pose a falling risk, but securing rugs and adding rails in the bathroom and putting rubber mats or a special bathing chair in the bathtub can make the home much safer. 

Other basic modifications that can make an elderly person’s home safer include: 

  • Improving lighting in poorly lit areas.
  • Installing nightlights throughout the home and in the bathrooms to prevent nighttime accidents.
  • Installing automatic outdoor lights to improve visibility outdoors.
  • Installing a security system that can also alert for medical emergencies.
  • Installing a paved wheelchair ramp if needed.
  • Removing clutter and tripping hazards like piles of newspapers, loose clothing or shoes.
  • Ensuring all electrical cords are in good condition.
  • Setting the thermostat on the water heater no higher than 120° F to prevent accidental scalding.
  • Replacing round doorknobs with single-lever doorknobs that are easier to use.
  • Making sure all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working well.
  • Taking items out of hard-to-reach cabinets and store them in a lower location.
  • Installing stairlifts if your loved one has trouble navigating stairs.

Not sure what your senior needs? Consider using a certified aging-in-place specialist who is certified by the National Association of Home Builders and have advanced knowledge about the challenges older clients can face. 

Many of the modifications can be done at a reasonable price, but you can also ask your accountant if your senior can receive tax incentives for improvements. 

Other programs can also help with the costs of modifying a home. According to the AARP, if your family’s income is low, you live in rural area, and the home being modified belongs to someone age 62 or older, the renovations may qualify for the federal Rural Housing Repair Loans and Grants program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

2. Simplify complex medical needs

Often, seniors must enter assisted living or a nursing home because of medical needs. When they have complex medical needs, without some help some seniors will improperly take their medications, mix up medications or miss their doctor’s appointments.

  • Invest in smart pill containers that show which pills need to be taken on specific days and times.
  • Use alarms as reminders to take medications.
  • Invest in a concierge service that can take seniors to and from medical appointments.
  • Invest in a Personal Emergency Response System, which is a device that can alert emergency personnel in case of falls, strokes or other emergencies. Many have automatic emergency detection, GPS tracking and more.

3. Stay emotionally healthy

It’s just as important to stay socially engaged and productive as it is to take care of physical needs. Isolation is a leading cause of depression for many seniors, so here are ways for elderly people to stay engaged.

  • Volunteer in the community. Mentoring young children, volunteering at hospitals, helping with community programs and tutoring are all ways to make a difference to others while remaining engaged and active.
  • Join a senior center or take senior classes. Not only can someone learn a new skill like painting, dance or exercise, but they can be around other people their own age and make new friends.
  • Encourage seniors to learn to use social media or online video calls to stay in touch.
  • Make regular visits to your aging loved ones.

4. Other resources for seniors

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services has numerous programs designed to help aging adults, ranging from adult day services, transportation assistance, legal assistance and more. Private for-profit concierge services can also help with day-to-day chores, errands and transportation as well.

Home-delivered meal programs are also an option for senior adults who are unable to cook for themselves or who have limited access to nutritional meals.

Thankfully, lots can be done to keep the seniors in your life safe and independent. One of the most important things you can do is to listen to their needs and feelings about the lifestyle that is important to them and what their own concerns are.