Elder Independence: How Seniors Can Live Safely & Comfortably at Home
For many seniors, living independently is an important part of maintaining self-esteem and dignity as they age. Loss of independence in older adults can lead to mental health struggles like depression as they lose their sense of agency and purpose.
Seniors want to stay in their own homes for the same reasons non-seniors do: they get to dictate their own routines and surroundings according to their own comfort. Living independently also grants them some control when aging begins to take some of it away through illness and physical limitations. A growing number of American seniors are choosing independence at home over living with relatives or in group homes or care facilities.
For those interested in helping their elderly relatives retain their independence and their safety while living alone, here are some guidelines to keep in mind.
1. Balance and strength training.
Perhaps the biggest factor in senior independence is their ability to move around as they please. Retaining their mobility allows them to continue their favorite activities and take care of daily tasks around the house. This depends on the senior’s physical health, which they can build with targeted exercise.
There are simple exercises seniors can do to maintain muscle mass and balance, which can help protect them from falls and injuries. Tai chi, modified yoga, and weight training all help promote physical health and safety for aging bodies. Daily walks (even better with company!) are also hugely beneficial. Note that seniors should consult their doctor before beginning any new exercise routines to ensure they choose appropriate activities for their capabilities and current fitness level.
Staying active and strong is key to keeping seniors independent and self-reliant in day-to-day life, which boosts their self-esteem.
2. Assistive devices.
While all seniors can benefit from appropriate exercise, some may also benefit from assistive devices for walking. Canes and walkers can be solutions for keeping the elderly in their own homes when their main barrier to independence is mobility. These can also help them move around their yard and neighborhood and even continue to go shopping or to religious services and social events, preventing isolation.
Seniors might also explore impactful assistive devices like hearing aids and new glasses. These can help them participate more fully in the world around them—for example, in conversations or for enjoying movies.
3. A safe environment.
When keeping seniors at home, it is essential to look around the home for potential hazards like poorly placed extension cords, hidden steps, items on high shelves, and nonfunctioning or missing smoke detectors. Extending grabbers for high-up items, motion-detecting lights, and similar options can further broaden their abilities around the house when on their own. Modified showers (with chairs, benches, or support bars), non-slip mats, and railings can also be useful support items.
An occupational therapist is an underused resource; this trained professional can help audit the senior’s environment for hidden threats to prevent slips, falls, and other injuries. They also offer a range of expertise in modifying daily tasks, keeping memory sharp, and maintaining physical health.
In addition, we have increasing options for technology to help seniors live independently. Voice-activated devices allow them to quickly call for emergency help, as well as aid them with reminders for taking medications, drinking water, or locking doors. Voice assistant technologies are easy to use and can improve their quality of life by conveniently connecting them with their care professionals and loved ones.
4. Social and emotional health.
All of us, regardless of age, need some level of socializing and relationships to feel happy. Make sure your senior loved one is included as often as possible in holidays and special occasions. Encourage them to stay in touch with you and with their friends and family via whatever technology is comfortable for them, be it phone calls, emails, text messages, or video chats. Initiate often.
Nudge them to continue any regularly occurring activities such as weekly religious service attendance, book clubs, exercise classes, and the like. Their local library, senior center, theater, or museum may have events that can fill out their social calendar, as well as volunteer opportunities that can fill their weeks with a sense of purpose and contribution to a cause.
Services are also available that will provide regular check-ins and social calls. These can help provide a compassionate, listening ear, as well as catch early signs of physical or mental health risks.
Watch your loved one for signs of isolation, depressed mood, listlessness, or negative outlook. Encourage them to get help from a professional counselor if symptoms become severe, and help connect them with this resource if needed.
5. Mental stimulation.
While it may be tempting to step in and take care of chores for your senior loved one, it is good for their mental health and stimulation for them to continue household tasks such as doing laundry and washing dishes, as they are able. This provides a sense of normalcy and agency as they continue to be able to care for their home.
Invite them to do jigsaw puzzles, crosswords, or sudoku, or to play board or card games. For those comfortable on a smartphone, “brain games” are available—many of them free—to help them train memory or reflexes. Reading and learning new things also help keep minds sharp.
Keeping up beloved hobbies such as painting, gardening, playing or listening to music, knitting, cooking, dancing, fishing, or chess will also keep them mentally stimulated and promote healthy independence.
For some seniors, the best support for independent living is having a caregiver to assist with the activities of daily living (ADLs). At this stage, it is better for most seniors’ health and happiness to keep them in their homes where they want to be—providing the help they need—rather than moving them to an unfamiliar place where they have less control, comfort, and familiarity. If your loved one needs home care, our VetAssist mission is to make home care easily and quickly accessible for those who qualify through the VA Pension with Aid and Attendance benefit. Veterans Home Care can help you determine whether you or your loved one will be eligible to receive the benefit, which can cover some or all of the cost of home care, and we make it easy to apply. Chat with us via our website, or call us at (888) 314-6075.