My parents expected to live out the rest of their lives in their beloved South Minneapolis home, exiting “feet first,” as my dad liked to say. Then life happened. My mom’s osteoarthritis made it hard to walk and my dad’s congestive heart failure left him exhausted. So we added banisters, stationed walkers on both floors, and installed a mini-fridge in their bedroom. That didn’t solve the problem, so we moved their bed downstairs, removed doors to accommodate my dad’s transport chair, hired a driver to take him to dialysis, and brought in a personal care attendant.
Unfortunately, these stop-gaps did nothing for their overall happiness. Even though my parents were still living in their own home, they felt trapped. Eventually, they agreed it was time to move into an independent/assisted living facility. It wasn’t what they’d envisioned for their later years, but the user-friendly design of their new apartment and easy access to services actually gave them a greater sense of autonomy and agency.
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My parents’ dream of “aging in place” is shared by millions of seniors. According to an AARP survey, 87% of adults age 65 and older say they want to stay in their current home and their community as they age.
But making that work requires planning. Once they stop driving, can they get to medical appointments, shop for groceries, visit their friends, and stay connected with their community? If they need a mobility aid (i.e., wheelchair, scooter, or walker) or have trouble walking, can they retrofit their house? If home repairs and yardwork become a problem, can they find in-home services?
Even seniors who answer “yes” to these questions might still choose to move. Why? Because maintaining independence is less about where you live, and more about how.
“There’s a common misconception that being independent means doing everything yourself,” said Julie Flanagan, MHI, BAN, RN, CRRN, Lifesprk Clinical Lead. “But you can still be independent and not know how to change your oil or install a water heater. All you need is the ability to get it done—to find the right resources.”
Some older adults are able to stay in their homes with the help of in-home care or home health services—medication management, assistance with bathing and dressing, shopping and meal prep, laundry, physical therapy, and transportation. For others, moving to an independent or assisted living community, skilled nursing facility, or memory care offers them the support they need to live healthier, happier, and yes, more independent lives.
Helpful strategies and tactics
“For our senior population, it’s about making life easier and removing barriers to living a sparked life,” Julie said. Her recommendations include:
- Creating routines. Bookend the day with routines that promote healthy habits, like eating breakfast, taking medications as prescribed, and maintaining good hygiene.
- Staying curious. Find ways to keep learning and growing through book clubs (in-person or video), museum tours (in-person or virtual), or art classes (socially distanced).
- Getting active. Exercise the body by walking, pulling weeds, taking the stairs, and even lifting soup cans. A physical therapist can identify weaknesses and provide strength training.
- Minimizing clutter. Identify the treasures that bring happiness and give away (or toss) everything that creates additional “work.”
- Eliminating obstacles. Clear a path to the telephone, bathroom, and front door—destinations often associated with a sense of urgency—to avoid falls.
- Socializing with friends. Stay connected through Zoom, Facetime, or phone. And when out in the community, be sure to wear a mask and follow social distancing guidelines.
To learn more about this important topic, we invite you to download our free eBook, Keeping Your Independence As You Age. You can also schedule a free consultation to find out how Lifesprk can help your loved one live a sparked life.