Remember when you walked to the bus stop on your own for the first time? Or when you picked up the keys for your first home or apartment? Growing up, we often see new forms of independence as milestones — whether it’s taking our first steps or getting a driver’s license.
As aging affects health, mobility, and memory, seniors may struggle to feel control over their everyday lives. But senior independence can help older adults maintain a sense of autonomy, even as circumstances change. Some markers of independence — such as driving safely and living alone — may not be possible past a certain age or physical condition. However, even basic decision-making and task-completion can offer a sense of accomplishment that boosts self-worth and well-being.
“We know how important it is for seniors to stay independent, so we give them the opportunity to make choices every day,” says Ryan Fean, REC regional connector at Holiday Retirement, a group of over 240 independent living communities headquartered in Winter Park, Florida. “Residents tell us what they want to do and what’s important to them, and we can support that.”
Learn the importance of elder self-sufficiency, how independent living communities work to help seniors stay independent, and what you can do to support elderly relatives at home.
Empowering older adults to make daily decisions promotes healthy aging and improves well-being in later life. In fact, older Americans who feel self-sufficient — whether in a senior living community or at home — may be less likely to be diagnosed with chronic conditions and more likely to self-report good health, according to a study conducted by Stanford University and the Universities of Wisconsin and Michigan.
One important marker of independence seniors can maintain is daily decision-making. For example, having access to transportation allows seniors to choose where they want to shop and which doctors they’d prefer to visit. An accessible kitchen lets them cook their favorite foods. Encourage seniors in your life to continue their daily routines or make adjustments to best support the retirement lifestyles they desire.
“Residents tell us the stuff they don’t want to do, and the tasks they still want to accomplish — some folks want to continue cooking and cleaning, while other people never want to make a home cooked dinner or fold laundry again,” says Fean. “We’re here to take those things off their plate, but help them stay independent.”
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Senior independence doesn’t have to mean being alone. Social isolation and loneliness can lead to poor mental and physical health in seniors, according to the National Institute on Aging. While choosing to age in place may seem like an independent choice, it often limits a senior’s social opportunities and increases isolation.
Lack of access to transportation, changing neighborhoods, and the death of friends can make it difficult to maintain a social life while living alone.
“Having a built-in community of other residents, all you have to do is open your door to find a neighbor, or go to the dining hall to find 40 more,” says Fean. “The opportunities are always there in independent living — if someone wants to get involved, they’re able to do so.”
While it may seem counter-intuitive, moving into a senior living community can actually help foster elder independence. The cost of an independent living community may be even be less than remaining at home. These communities provide the resources and amenities older adults need to maintain physical, mental, and social autonomy.
Not all elders want to make the move to an independent living community, but there are still ways you can help your loved one stay independent for as long as possible in their own home. Help support your aging relative’s independent spirit by encouraging them to remain involved in family life and their favorite activities.
Whether your loved one chooses to age at home or make the transition to independent living, it’s vital to support their autonomy and encourage them to maintain independence.
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Federal Housing Administration. Aging in Place: Facilitating Choice and Independence.
National Institute on Aging. Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risks.
Stanford University, University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin. Independence and interdependence predict health and wellbeing.
Walden University. Aging Well: Helping the Elderly Maintain Independence.
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