How to Keep Your Independence

How To Keep Your Independence As Long As Possible

If we want to keep our independence as we’re aging, we need to be more aware of safety issues and also set up some safeguards.

How to Keep Your Independence as Long as Possible

With Independence Day approaching in the U.S. this week, I started thinking about what it means to be independent.

For most Americans, our independence is probably something we take for granted and don’t think about much. We are free to make choices and live our lives as we want to – unless we make really bad ones, and that freedom is taken away.

But as I’ve been aging, it has occurred to me more and more that there may come a time when I don’t have that kind of personal independence any more. I’m referring to the possibility that I could reach a stage where my mental or physical health could cause me to rely on others for my daily care. I’d like to put that day off as long as possible.

If we want to keep our independence as we’re aging, we need to take issues like safety and our health seriously. Here are a few things to think about regarding home safety:

Prevent accidental falls

From my experience working in nursing home care, I know that falls are a primary cause of seniors losing their independence. The CDC reports that every year, over fourteen million older adults have accidental falls. Most of these occur at home in the bedroom, bathroom, or on stairs. And most could be prevented with some simple changes and increased awareness.

Keep your Independence Prevent Accidental Falls
  • Don’t store anything higher than you can safely reach. Never try to stand on anything like a ladder or step stool without someone there to hold it and help steady you.
  • Look for tripping hazards in your home and correct them.
    • Get rid of loose scatter rugs
    • Install hand railings anywhere you need to step down
    • Make sure there are no cords near areas you walk through
    • Place anti-slip tape on stair treads or in areas that could be slippery when damp (like tiled floors)
  • If you need to reduce the height of the step down in a doorway, check out these free-standing half steps.
  • Pay special attention to your bathroom.
    • Install a handrail and/or non-slip tape or decals in the tub or shower (remember those daisies your grandma had in hers?)
    • Place a non-skid bath mat where you step out.
    • Consider using a shower stool with a handheld sprayer if you have a walk-in shower.
    • Think about how you clean your bathroom. What tools or products can you buy that don’t require you to lean way over or get down on your hands and knees?

Prevent fires

The American Red Cross says most home fires are related to cooking. The most common cause is leaving the stove unattended.

  • Tell your spouse or turn off the burners if you have to leave the room while you’re cooking, even for a minute or two.
  • Glass top stoves are everywhere today. While they’re great for easy cleaning, they have also proved to be something of a safety issue. A red warning light appears on the control panel when the stovetop is hot, but Bob and I have both been burned anyway. We need to remind ourselves to be careful, even several minutes after we’re done cooking.
  • The other issue we’ve had is forgetting the burner is on, and leaving something on the stove too long – a few times until the pot boiled dry. The timer on the stove only beeps twice (not very loudly) and we often miss it going off. I’ve taken to using the alarm on my phone, instead. You could also use a kitchen timer that doesn’t stop until you turn it off.
  • Be especially careful when cooking with grease or oils that can easily catch on fire.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy.
  • Make sure your smoke alarm is working properly and change the batteries as often as recommended.

Prevent Accidents with Medications

  • Keep all medications (prescription or over-the-counter) in the original bottles or packaging so you don’t mix anything up.
Prevent Accidents with Medications
  • Every time you take any medications, check the label to be sure you’re taking the right thing in the right dosage.
  • Bring all of the medications you’re taking – including over-the-counter drugs and supplements – to your doctor appointments. Even “herbal” supplements can have adverse interactions with certain meds. And sometimes your doctor is unaware of prescriptions from another provider.

Doing everything you can to stay healthy is important if you want to keep your independence.

Staying healthy, both physically and mentally, is about more than feeling good. It’s vital to staying independent. And as we age, we need to increase our focus on things that support that.

Build strong relationships and stay in touch to help you keep your independence as long as possible.

You may already be aware of the importance of social interactions for good health. But did you know they can also add an element of safety? Develop a relationship with your neighbors so you can watch out for each other. And give each other permission to be nosy! If you notice something out of the ordinary, call and check on them. And ask them to do the same for you.

You should also make a habit of carrying your phone with you when you move to another room in your house. I remember laughing at the “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” commercials of the late 1980s. But I’m not laughing so much any more. The older we get, the more that could be a reality. Having your phone nearby could be life-saving. We live in a two-story house, so for Bob and I, having our phones might be crucial even to contact each other when we’re home.

Make your goal to keep your independence as long as possible a priority!

Set a yearly date on your calendar to do a safety check-up. Go through your house room by room, and look for anything that could be a hazard to your ninety-five year old parent. Remind yourself that if it’s dangerous for him, it could be for you, too. Then fix or remove the hazard.

At the same time, do an honest health assessment. Look at what your diet has been like the past year. What could you add or remove that could improve you health? Also think about how much exercise you’re getting and whether you should increase or change your routine. It could also be helpful to do some research regarding what you can do to improve your physical and mental health as you age.

So, how do you think you’re doing in these areas right now? Any thoughts regarding what you should work on to help you keep your independence longer? Tell us about them in the comments!

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