Maintaining independence is one of the most common challenges faced by older adults in retirement. Even if you’ve lived most of your life on your own, it is natural to feel a slight loss of autonomy as you age. Fortunately, there are proactive steps you can take to avoid these feelings and instead feel comfortable and in control for the rest of your life.
1) Prepare Your Finances
Aside from health-related matters, maintaining independence in older adulthood also has a lot to do with finances. You wouldn’t want to rely on a family member to support your lifestyle, so it pays to start preparing as soon as possible.
Start by calculating your living expenses and see if your retirement income (pension, IRA, Social Security benefits, etc.) will be able to cover those expenses. If not, seek alternative income sources, lower your living expenses–or both.
For some seniors, taking out a reverse mortgage is also a viable option, as it can provide additional income while taking away your biggest expense–monthly mortgage payments. If you have built substantial equity in your home and are nearing retirement age, consider this option when planning your retirement finances.
2) Pay Attention to What You Eat
Proper nutrition is important in all stages of life, but it becomes more vital as one grows older. While a lifetime of unhealthy eating cannot be undone, adopting a healthier diet can help delay the onset of diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, or help manage their symptoms. Moreover, a healthier diet is the key to staying fit, which, in turn, can help you maintain physical independence.
That said, start paying closer attention to what you eat. Avoid foods that are rich in bad cholesterol, trans fats, sugar, salt, preservatives, and refined carbohydrates. Instead, eat more nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, fruits, minimally processed carbohydrates, lean meats, and healthy fats.
If you need help tailoring your diet to match your height, weight, health conditions, and other factors, talk to your doctor or consult a licensed dietitian.
3) Stay Physically Active
Along with a healthy diet, getting enough exercise is one of the best ways to maintain independence in retirement. Physical pain is a common reason why many retirees cannot move like they used to, and exercise helps delay the onset of age-related pain by a significant amount.
Stick to an exercise routine that is within your physical capabilities. For example, if you can handle only light activities, try walking, cycling, swimming, and other non-intensive exercises. But if you want to push your limits further, ask your doctor about doing more difficult activities like hiking, weight lifting, surfing, etc.
4) Modify Your Home
At some point in time, routine tasks may become difficult as you age. Modifying your home to meet your specific needs can allow you to live in your home for the remainder of your life. Here are some potential modifications that you may need in order to age in place:
- Handlebars near the toilet, bathtub, and shower
- Wheelchair ramps on the entrances of your home
- Paved pathways in your backyard
- Lower kitchen counters
- Higher toilets to reduce the stress on your knees
- Better lighting to help with poor vision
- Ergonomic furniture to prevent back pain
5) Get Enough Sleep
Many adults are used to getting less than eight hours of sleep after decades of routine. However, chronic lack of sleep is never beneficial for the body, even if you are well-conditioned to not getting enough sleep every night.
That being said, try to sleep for at least eight hours every night. If you have trouble falling and/or staying asleep for the right amount of time, you may need to make some changes to your night-time routine or to your bedroom itself. For instance, try using a white noise machine to block out any external noise that can wake you up in the middle of the night. Or perhaps, a better mattress can help you find a more restful sleep. Talking to your doctor can help determine if there is an underlying problem behind your sleep patterns, especially if you constantly wake up in the middle of the night.
6) Consider Assisted Living or In-Home Care
A nursing home is not your only option when you can no longer live by yourself. There are assisted living facilities that provide seniors with as little or as much care as they need to maintain their independence, either through a residential or social setting.
You also have the option of staying at home and having a personal care assistant perform routine visits to help out with your basic or medical needs. Depending on how much care you need and where you want to live, there are plenty of alternatives to checking into a nursing home or long-term care facility.
Independence is something that we take for granted when we are still young and able. When you get older, you will realize that–at some point–you may need someone else to help you. While not everyone will need to fully depend on someone else to live comfortably, it’s important to start taking action to maintain your independence for as long as possible, starting with the strategies mentioned above.