How Can I Stay Independent as I Age?
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What Does Independence Mean to Older Adults?

As people age, things change. Sometimes the changes associated with aging happen gradually, and other times there is an accident or worsening of a medical condition. The ability to remain independent is something that most older adults say they want. But, what exactly does that mean, and how does Home Care Assistance help make this possible? Let’s look at what older adults say independence means to them and some of the research that reinforces the physical and psychological benefits of staying independent.

Aging in Place is the Preference of Most Older Adults

We know now without a doubt that most older adults say they want to age in place. 76% of Americans age 50 and older say they prefer to remain in their current residence. But, as people get older, they find it more challenging to age in place due to chronic medical conditions and the need for more assistance. “Nearly two in 10 Americans aged 70 and older state that they either cannot, or find it difficult, to live independently and accomplish daily tasks without getting help from caregivers or community resources.

Why is aging in place associated with independence, and is it possible to remain independent at home? Indeed, aging at home doesn’t necessarily mean freedom. Many older adults are isolated and dependant on family members for support. Let’s look at some of the reasons older adults associate staying at home with independence.

  • Most of the years at home are probably independent for older adults who have spent many years in the same house and neighborhood. Home is where older adults raised families and had careers.
  • Many older adults have strong connections to their neighborhoods and neighbors.
  • Home is where the family gathers for life events such as grandkids or celebrating achievements and holidays.

Staying at home through older age is possible and preferable for most people. Planning, caregiver support, and a focused effort on what independence means for the individual will ensure success. For example, about one-third of older adults expect their homes to need major modifications as they age. A combination of home safety additions and caregiver support will promote older adult independence.

What Do Older Adults Say Independence Means to Them?

“The ability to make my own decisions about where I live, to have my own opinions, to see my friends, to manage my own finances, and come and go as I please.”

“The freedom to take care of my needs and wants to the best of my abilities.”

Every person has a unique definition of independence. Home Care Assistance values the individual perspective of each client and strives to help the client achieve their version of independence. Getting to know the client is the first step in helping clients reach their potential. One person may define independence as recovering from a fall with the help of a caregiver to reinforce physical therapy exercises. For another person, independence means getting to the senior center or accessing pickleball since they don’t drive any longer.

Home Care Assistance is reaching out to clients to get their definitions of independence. We invite you to take part in the survey to give us your perspective on independence. The more we learn from older adults, the better we can serve our clients in ways that are meaningful to them.

How Can Independence Affect Physical and Emotional Health?

Studies show a complex relationship between independence and physical and emotional health. It is a vicious cycle that starts with loss of physical function that results in depression, leading to increasing difficulty staying motivated to improve.

For example, we know that older adults with physical conditions such as heart disease and mobility problems are more prone to depression. As older adults become frailer, they lose social connections. “Actively engaging adults in prevention and wellness and involving their caregivers can prevent or delay the onset of physical disabilities and cognitive decline.

Intervening early with support and social engagement is critical to helping older adults remain at home and stay as independent as possible.

How Do We Define Independence at Home Care Assistance?

Home Care Assistance reinforces and encourages what the idea of independence means to the client. We develop an individualized care plan that honors and respects personal preferences and needs, focusing on improving physical functioning and mental well-being. Our survey and research have some clear indications on how we can maximize the potential for independence.

  • Deciding Where to Live

If an older adult states they want to live at home, families, and caregivers help make this possible. A good place to start is focusing on home modifications to ensure safety and hiring caregivers. Our caregivers can cook, shop, provide transportation, offer companionship and be the eyes and ears to report problems or concerns before they worsen.

  • Manage Finances and Activities of Daily Living

Activities of daily living include dressing, bathing, and hygiene. Home Care Assistance caregivers encourage clients to do what they can, but at the same time assist when needed to ensure safety. Caregivers can monitor mail, potential scam calls, and door-to-door salespeople.

  • Maximize Potential

The maximizing of potential is the critical piece of reinforcing independence. Encouragement and positive affirmations help an older adult improve functioning, which in turn improves mental health.

  • Empower to Make Decisions

Having choices taken away is one of the more demoralizing aspects of aging. To the extent that they can, everyone should be involved in how they want to lead their lives. Home Care Assistance values the individual and makes them an active participant in the decision-making process.

How can Family Caregivers Best Support Older Loved Ones?

As a family caregiver of an older loved one, you want to do everything you can to support their health and well-being. At Home Care Assistance, we consider the relationship between the family, your loved one, and our caregivers as a partnership. We have some suggestions on how to support your older loved one with our help.

Promote Physical Independence and Safety

  • Our caregivers reinforce good physical health habits and monitor safety hazards.
  • Home accessibility and safety features will ensure a home environment that encourages independence.
  • Caregivers provide transportation for older adults who shouldn’t be driving. Transportation allows older adults to meet with friends, go to doctor’s appointments, and access preferred activities.

Supporting mental and emotional health

  • Caregivers provide companionship and assist the client with accessing social events.
  • Caregivers can monitor and report on mental health changes

Encouraging social interactions and purposeful engagement

  • Regularly scheduled family visits in person or virtually keep older adults engaged and feeling cared for.
  • Caregivers keep clients mentally engaged by teaching new skills, playing games, and encouraging ongoing challenges such as learning technology.

Promoting Independence for Older Adults

At Home Care Assistance, our goal mirrors the wants and needs of our clients and their families. The challenges facing you and your loved one are surmountable with enough planning and support. Promoting and reinforcing independence is our mission, and with your help, we can make it possible.

About the Author(s)

Amanda Lambert is the owner and president of Lambert Care Management, LLC which provides care management for older and disabled adults. She is the co-author of Choose Your Place: Rethinking Home as You Age (November 2020) and of Aging with Care: Your Guide to Hiring and Managing Caregivers at Home (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018). She has worked for over 20 years in the senior-related industry including mental health, marketing and guardianship. She has a passion for topics related to health, wellness and resilience as we age.

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Home Care Assistance can help you or a loved one today. Contact us now for your complimentary in-home assessment.

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