Ways to Maintain Your Independence as You Age
With the life expectancy of Australians rising, along with improved medical interventions, our ageing population’s continually growing. By living longer, the potential for a health crisis or developing a health condition increases, whereby you’ll need additional support around the home.
Even though getting older often involves living through increased periods of ill-health, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to give up your independence. Moreover, needing help and assistance doesn’t necessarily take away your independence. Often there’s a healthy medium. In saying that, there are measures that you can put into place to help you to maintain your independence for as long as possible.
Make Your Environment Safe
Many people live in the same home for years. Being in once place for so long usually means that you accumulate many belongings. It can be really difficult to part with your personal effects, but they can actually be a danger to you. Having a cluttered home can be a health risk. Not only can there be a large build-up of dust, often items are stacked and could easily topple over. Also, having a cluttered home increases the fire risk. Most importantly though, having clutter in the home significantly increases your risk of falls.
Good lighting in the home is also important. According the Healthdirect, dim lighting is one of the greatest reasons that elderly people fall in the home. When you combine dim lighting, clutter and poor eyesight, the risk of stumbling and falling significantly increases.
Consider making home modifications in order to stay in your home for longer. Many people have bathrooms that are fine for a 25 year old, but not so good for somebody with restricted mobility. The bathroom and toilet can be a major hazard. You can look at improving your bathroom by installing grab rails, and a non-slip mat in the shower. If you can afford to, think about removing the step up into the shower, and look at removing the shower door so that you won’t get stuck in there if you have a fall or need help. Also, many older adults find it hard to bend and difficult to stand for long periods of time. An Occupational Therapist can assess your home for the most appropriate modifications to best meet your needs. For a bathroom they might suggest a raised toilet seat, and a shower chair.
Does your house have stairs or a small step into the house? Stairs can pose a real threat to independence if you have any knee or hip conditions. Stair-lifts are an option for some, but can be expensive. Ideally if your living space is downstairs and you’re struggling with getting upstairs, think about moving yourself to one level for ease of movement.
Also, look at your kitchen and think of ways to minimise the risk of fire. Consider installing a fire blanket and fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Invest in non-slip matting around the cooking areas and sink. Last but not least, ensure that you have smoke alarms installed in the correct locations of the house and that they are in good working order. For further information, NSW Fire & Rescue offer many tips to help you become fire safe.
Utilise In-Home Services
It’s exhausting for many people trying to maintain their home as they age. Increasing frailty also brings with it challenges such as difficulty cleaning, difficulty making beds, and difficulty in cooking meals. You probably love your independence and fear that by seeking help you’re relinquishing it. But in fact, you’re maintaining it for longer. By seeking assistance you get to stay in your home for as long as possible, manage activities of daily living with or without help, and partake in activities that you’ve always participated in.
In-home care might be as simple as getting somebody to mow your lawn once a month. It could also be regular physiotherapy to keep you steady and reduce your risk of falls. There are options in aged care support, whereby the support’s intended to maintain your independence. Other support such as short-term restorative care can help you to get back on your feet when you need it, and keep you independent for as long as possible.
Keep in Touch
Many of us go about our daily business and often isolate ourselves from others. Letting your friends and family know that you are ok on a frequent basis will give them peace of mind. It also means that if something goes wrong with you and you haven’t checked in with them, they’ll have concern. This concern will usually prompt them to check in with you to make sure that you’re ok.
Alternatively, to feel safe and stay independent, there are several companies offering emergency response alarms. You can wear these alarms as a bracelet or pendant around your neck. When you press the alarm button, a call is sent to a response centre. A operator will then call you to assess your situation. Based on your response, or lack of response, the operator will contact a family member, friend or emergency services in order for you to gain the assistance that you require.
Social activity in the later years of life aids to improve both mental and physical health. In turn, this helps you to stay independent for longer. Having an active social life through catching up with friends, neighbours, family and the broader community will improve your overall happiness and your health and wellbeing.
This is because socialising reduces your risk of depression, and encourages you to get out of the house and engage in physical activity. Studies have shown that socialising reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, depression, osteoporosis, and even arthritis.
With all of this in mind, some people feel stumped when it comes to socialising. If this is you, consider reconnecting with interests and hobbies that you once enjoyed. It could be a game of Bridge or hit on the golf course. It doesn’t matter what your interests are. It could be that you’ve stopped going to church or volunteering at your local RSL. Whatever the activity is, if you liked it once, give it another go and work on building connections with others.
Look After Yourself
Being older doesn’t mean that you’re less important. Don’t forget to look after yourself and do the right thing by yourself. If you’re feeling unwell, take note of your body. Look out for signs and symptoms and get them checked out as soon as possible.
If you’re feeling depressed and/ or anxious, don’t ignore it. Depression and anxiety don’t discriminate, and can affect you at any time throughout life.
Finally, nourish your body, mind and spirit. Eat nutritious foods, read good books, enjoy the company of great friends and enjoy travelling to desirable destinations. This will help to ensure that you stay independent, and happier for longer.