Staying independent and in control of one's life is a common desire as we age. How do *you* define independence?

Celebrating Independence Day — for Seniors

Karen Caccavo Living Independently

Recently, my Personal Money ManagerSM workweek included discussions with three of our clients.  At ages 68, 78, and 92, each of those clients has differing degrees of health and capacity.  But for them and many other seniors, the issue of how to maintain independence in a way that meets both their needs and those of their families dominates the discussion.

Here are some of the tips I share with clients for planning their futures and sharing their wishes and plans with their family.

Define what independence means

Staying independent and in control of one’s life is a common desire as we age.  But how that looks is different to different people.  For example independence might be the freedom to eat whatever and whenever you please.  Or, it could be freedom from food shopping, preparing meals, and cleaning up afterwards.  How do you define independence?

Take the lead

Living independently starts with self-knowledge and identifying areas where help may be needed or appreciated.  Talk early and often with your family and others making decisions with you about how you want to live.  If you don’t, change could be imposed on you, sometimes prompted by an unplanned event such as a broken hip (reduced mobility); a natural disaster that makes your home uninhabitable (Hurricane Sandy); or the death or infirmity of a spouse.  If the discussion is too uncomfortable to face, please retain a professional facilitator like a care manager or social worker rather than kick this important issue down the road.

Don’t underestimate the value of an organized environment

The Mayo Clinic lists “getting organized” as a tool to improve memory and independence (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/healthy-aging/in-depth/memory-loss/art-20046518).  A clutter-free, well organized living environment will help you “age in place” (in your own home), safely.  Other tips that promote self-sufficiency: Keep to-do lists and check off items you’ve completed.  Set aside a place for your wallet, keys and other essentials.  Limit distractions and don’t do too many things at once —  focus on the information or task at hand.

Aim for a living environment that least restricts independence

Imposing unnecessary restrictions on a senior’s independence can lead to more than an unpleasant tug-of-war in families.  Do you need a home care aide to help with activities such as cooking or running errands?  Or would that be a welcomed “luxury”?  Can you still drive without risking your own safety or that of others?  According to the National Institutes of Health, a family’s restricting the independence of a senior member can lead to anger, resentment, and depression.

Consider various living options

A smaller, more manageable house/apartment might be the perfect solution.  A senior recently told me, “I chose a rental so I can call the super when something needs fixing.”  And she loves her new location upstairs from a gourmet market, no driving required.  (See my blog post, “How to Decide:  Should I Stay or Should I Move?”).

Independence . . . with a safety net

It may come as a surprise that independent or assisted living, with the multiple levels of support provided, can actually support independence.  No need to rely on your family for food, transportation, or entertainment.  Before making a decision, explore the many living alternatives available.

Getting support services

If you choose to age in place, plan for support services that would make this option viable.  Who will provide and pay for the services you and your home need?  Start with a professional assessment of your current capabilities, both physical and cognitive, and project these forward to anticipate future needs.  No solution is permanent.  Life is full of surprises, both good and bad.  Think now about what events or changes might necessitate a move as you age (see #2, above).

Speaking of change . . .

Acknowledge that change can be difficult at all ages and stages.  Get the psychological and emotional support you need.  How can this next stage of life be eagerly anticipated rather than an admission of defeat?

Happy Independence Day (even if it’s not July 4)!