People prefer to age in place. That’s been confirmed by studies time after time. Change is stressful, especially a change of living space, so it’s not surprising that seniors prefer to stay where they are and “age in place.”
Not familiar with the term “aging-in-place”? It means that you stay in the home of your choice as you age. You keep the home you know with all its familiarity and memories.
Aging in place is popular because it means retaining independence, something that’s vital for seniors’ sense of wellbeing. Whether the place in which you are aging is your family’s long-time house, a down-sized empty-nester’s roost, or an apartment in a retirement community, the sense that you are in control is essential to maintaining your health.
Strategies for maintaining independence as you age
If aging-in-place is your goal, there are ways to make sure you can stay independent. Here are some targeted strategies.
Try these methods for empowering you to stay active and maintain vitality in spite of any change in your abilities:
· Eat healthy
Have you heard of the Blue Zones? These are areas throughout the world where people live the longest and are the healthiest. Their diet, dubbed “the Blue Zone diet” is considered a contributing factor to their longevity. Some of the key elements are: eat mostly plants, incorporate beans regularly in your meals, snack on nuts, and drink mostly water. The National Institute on Aging recommends focusing on lean protein (plant-based as well), complex carbs (like whole grains), fruits, and vegetables. Both sources offer recommendations around what to avoid: remove added sugars, and limit dairy and salty foods.
You don’t have to make radical diet changes. Try substitutions, like plant-based milk in your coffee. Add in more vegetables for snacks throughout the day, such as baby carrots with hummus, or apple slices dipped in nut butter. Get fun and creative with finding healthier ingredient substitutes for some of your favorite recipes. And remember, you don’t have to completely eliminate sweets; just try to limit them.
Building new relationships and keeping up old ones will keep you mentally healthy and has been proven to reduce stress and the risk of depression. By creating meaningful relationships, you will feel more connected and supported.
Senior community centers, Jewish Community Centers, YMCAs, and other faith-based organizations all offer a wealth of classes, groups, and activities, often specifically for seniors. The same goes for senior living communities. Whether you enjoy knitting, golf, aerobics, card games, or talking politics, there’s likely a group you can join full of people with similar interests. And while you’re having fun, you’re actually taking positive action to support your health.
· Get outside
A change of scene will do you good, and exposure to the natural world is restorative. Take a walk outside if you are able – in your neighborhood, in a park, around an outdoor shopping center.
Or if you prefer to slow down in nature, try forest bathing. Forest bathing is not about doing (hiking, jogging); it’s about being. No water involved, this Japanese practice means immersing yourself in the natural world and observing it through all five senses. By paying close attention to nature, you slow down and connect to something outside of yourself.
· Move your body regularly
Do you find you’re spending a lot of time reading, crafting, or watching TV? If so, try getting up every hour to move. You can climb stairs, walk around the block, or take a tour of your house. Turn on music and dance. However you move, you’ll feel better and this will help maintain your strength and physical abilities in all areas of your life
Beyond moving every hour, it’s important to have a regular program of exercise to keep your body strong and heart-healthy. The current recommendation is a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate to intense activity a week or about 20 minutes a day. Small improvements to your daily activity level can have major benefits for seniors .
· Exercise your brain
Your brain needs a workout, just like your body. We’re not talking about TV, movies, or even reading. Give your brain a workout with puzzles, word games, studying a new language, etc.
Maybe you’ve heard the term “neuroplasticity”. It may sound intimidating, but it simply means our brains can change across our lifespan. Not too long ago, many believed the brain stopped evolving at age 12. That’s just not true. Our brains remain capable of change throughout our lives.
To enhance your brain’s functioning, find an activity you enjoy, something you can stick with over time and that challenges you. Learning new things, like dancing or languages may be your thing. Try writing, playing an instrument, or using apps like Wordle and Duolingo. Keep challenging yourself and have fun.
· Help others
The ability to share your time and talents with others is one of the advantages of retirement. Volunteering offers reward to the recipient and to you. Connecting with and helping other people creates opportunities for social engagement and brain exercise. Sharing your gifts can offer a renewed sense of purpose and improve your state of mind.
The opportunities for volunteering in Nashville are endless, from the library to Habitat for Humanity to a variety of health organizations. Define what you’re passionate about and the skills you offer. Then a matching site like Volunteer Match or an organization like AARP can help.
Strategies for the home
· Stay safe
Make sure your living space is safe and convenient for you. This could mean taking simple actions such as removing throw rugs to reduce slip/fall hazards or asking a family member or friend to assist you in organizing. Or it could also mean hiring a home adaptation professional to help you consider adding grab bars in the bathroom or making your home accessible to a walker or wheelchair. Only take on home maintenance tasks you can handle safely and consult with a certifed aging in place specialist for larger projects.
· Hire help
This could be a landscape service to handle outdoor tasks, a cleaning service to tackle the heavy housework, or an in-home caregiver to help with laundry and other chores. If you are accustomed to handling all of your home chores and maintenance, consider how you could continue yet adapt what you are doing. For example, perhaps you can safely continue to weed gardens and lightly trim shrubs, but it may be worthwhile to hire a professional for areas out of reach such as cleaning gutters and standing on ladders. Keep up with the vacuuming and daily cleaning, but hire someone to scrub the bathrooms.
· Explore opportunities for assistance
If your budget doesn’t have room for hiring helpers, look for government and other assistance programs in your area. Consult neighborhood resources, such as Next Door, to find local, inexpensive help with daily tasks such as taking the trash to the street or mowing your lawn.
Talk to Blakeford for helpful advice that’s tailored to your situation.
· Technology can help
Technology can make life easier. Personal emergency response systems can notify your emergency contact if you have a fall and cannot reach a phone. Fitness trackers can empower you to set goals and monitor your physical abilities over time. There are now robotic vacuums and lawn mowers that do the job for you. Ask your favorite tech guru or talk to Blakeford for suggestions on finding the right device or app for you.
Staying motivated to stay independent
Now that your head is full of good ideas, you may be wondering where to start or how to keep a new routine going. It takes 21 days to form a new habit, so try making one change at a time, and continue it for 3 weeks. Don’t worry yourself over a missed day or small break in your new routine. Just pick up right where you left off.
Staying physically healthy, socially active, and mentally engaged are the keys to maintaining independence as you age. Once you get started any one of these strategies, you just may find that you feel better, more empowered, and eager to stay on track.