I'm a big fan of Next Avenue! Next Avenue is a website from PBS stations designed to inspire America’s booming 50+ generation to live the most meaningful and vibrant life possible. I highly encourage everyone reading this to subscribe to their newsletter and follow their social media accounts.
In this week's newsletter they featured the story above, '9 Ways to Extend the Time You Spend Living Independently'. The article outlines 9 suggestions (great suggestions!) to stay in your home or community as long as possible.
There is a stigma around leaving one’s home and 𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘪𝘯𝘨 to move into senior living. A stat in the article says, "Three-quarters of adults in a 2018 AARP survey said they wanted to remain in their homes, but only 59% thought they would be able to do so.". I would guess that if AARP were to redo this survey the number of older adults wanting to remain in their home in a post-COVID world would be much higher.
It's natural to be bonded to one’s home. A place that holds so many memories, is decorated just the way you like, has all your things, and there is certainly more space than a senior living suite. So many older adults are trying to stay in their homes, but there is a difference between living in one’s own home as long as possible and extending the time you spend living independently.
For four years I worked with older adults in the community. Then I worked for six years in the retirement living industry. Working in the senior living sector is what inspired me to create StrongerU Senior Fitness, where I now have the opportunity to work with recreation, fitness, and wellness professionals, and senior living organizations, across the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, so I know firsthand how achieving these 9 suggestions to live independently longer are much more easily achieved in a senior living environment.
1. Prevent Falls
I love that Next Avenue has listed this as number 1! Falls are the number one cause of injury-related hospitalization for older adults and having one can lead to a downward spiral that can ultimately lead to death. In this article they site my favorite way to prevent falls- Keep Moving! At any age it is tough to stay active and make fitness a priority. As we age, it gets harder and during a pandemic it is even more difficult for older adults to stay active. In senior living, residents have access to nearly daily fitness programming. Although it might take place virtually, down a hallway, or off a piece of paper, most senior living organizations are doing everything they can to keep residents moving. In the winter when it's hard to get outside, the expansive hallways of a retirement community are great for walking. I have seen residents who moved into senior living because of a fall, or being physically deconditioned, and quickly regain their strength (and with it their independence) after making senior living their home.
2. Work with Experts
Another great suggestion by Next Avenue! When you live in senior living, these experts work in your home. Many of us don't like to visit the doctor. If we feel weird or not well, many of us tend to wait it out vs. head to the clinic or call our doctor. It's inconvenient for us to go out and we often don't want to inconvenience our doctor if we get to the office and shortly after begin feeling better. In senior living, you ring your call bell or stop by the nurse’s station between programming or meals if you’re feeling off. In addition to health experts, you have access to life engagement experts, services like foot care, blood pressure clinics, and carefully crafted meals that ensure you have the fuel to live your independent life.
3. Stay Mentally Active
Next Avenue recommends, "...mentally stimulating games and activities preserved cognitive functioning in older adults.". In senior living environments, it's easy to stay mentally active when you take advantage of the calendar of offerings or suggest and lead your own programs. I once sat in on a weekly French class lead by a resident. He certainly would not have taught this class if he were living at home and the 10 residents in the class would likely not have been learning French from home.
4. Access Support Services
This suggestion refers to the importance of asking for help when needed for things like groceries, medications, and in-home service such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, lab services, and transportation to medical appointments. It can be difficult to juggle all of these support services from multiple providers. When living in a retirement community, many of these support services are available to you under one roof and through one provider.
5. Discuss Medical Care Reductions
I love this suggestion by Next Avenue! It's not one you would typically see on a list like this, but it is so important. In western medicine, it's way too common that a medication is prescribed to counteract a set of symptoms. The symptoms dissipate, we continue to take the pill, and often add more pills as the years go on to address new issues. Drug interactions and sustained medication use can sometimes do more harm, than the good they were initially prescribed for. If someone moves into a retirement community and starts exercising, eating regular and nutritious meals, starts sleeping better, feeling better, then they should definitely consult their doctor to review their medications.
6. Maintain Relationships
Social and family connections are incredibly important for mental-health and wellbeing. Yet, so many older adults who are so desperately trying to stay in their own home as long as possible are doing so alone. Those who built strong social connections at local senior and recreation centers are now nearly cut off from those interactions in our current state. In senior living, you have neighbors who are 5 feet away. You have table mates, and bridge club, and a night out in your own home. Yes, this looks a little different now due to COVID, but being connected, socially engaged, and part of a community is much easier to do in senior living.
7. Stay Flexible
"Change is necessary and rather than it being forced on you, think of taking the lead," says Barlowe. "Keep your eye on your goal of living independently and be open to possibilities that will help you.". I have heard so many older adults say, "If I knew it was going to be like this than I would have moved in sooner.". When older adults 'take the lead' and move into senior living before they 'need it' they can enjoy it so much more and reap even more of the benefits. Senior Living is often seen as a loss of independence by so many, but that's truly not the case for all the reasons I have already outlined.
8. Start Saving Money
This goes for a senior living as well. I once worked with a resident who absolutely loved the community she lived in, but as the years progressed, she started to realize that she was going to live longer than she expected and would not be able to afford to continue to live in the community she loved. Working with her financial planner, she was able to recognize this and move to a more affordable, but equally wonderful community.
9. Have a Plan
"Staying in your own home requires thinking ahead." says the Next Avenue article. I say throw all those worries and plans aside. Let the housekeeper clean your suite, have the chef cook your meals, enjoy the programs available every day, let the bus take you to the show, teach a French class (if you want!), and live life! If you want to stay in your home, great, but don't do it because you think that is the only way to stay independent.
Thank you to Next Avenue for the incredible articles they put out! This article is no exception. I love this quote by independentliving.org, "...it's not that you are living on your own but that you control where you live and have the same range of choices...". There is a difference between extending the time spent in one’s home and extending the time lived independently.
What do you think? How can we destigmatize senior living, so that more older adults can live independently longer?