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5 Steps to Maintain Independence as You Age

Dave Bernard

We slave away on the job for the better part of our lives to provide ourselves and our families with a good life. Most of us accept the reality that nothing worthwhile comes easily, but we would also like to believe that if we give it our all we will be successful to some degree. When it comes to independence in retirement, we hope those same rules apply. If we save today for a fulfilling retirement in the future, do what we can to maintain our health both mentally and physically along the way, and optimistically face each new day, we can hope to enjoy newfound freedom as retirees.

However, as with much of life, things seldom go the way we believe they should. Bumps and detours along the way must be dealt with, challenges confront us from all sides, and retirement is just not as easy as it should be. But there are things we can do to support our efforts. Here are some ways to maintain our independence as we age:

Fall prevention. Older bones are weaker, and the consequences of a fall for people over 65 can be devastating. Falls result in fractures more often among senior citizens. For one of the most common injuries, hip fractures, the lives of many of those injured will change dramatically if they become unable to return home or live independently after the fall. To help avoid falls, be aware of physical aspects of your surroundings. Watch for wet or slippery surfaces, turn on the lights so you can see where you are going, and support yourself with railings where available. Realize that some medications could make falls more likely, and take that into consideration. Balance becomes challenging as we age, so it's a good idea to try to stay fit through exercise, stretching, and activities such as yoga that focus on balance and building core strength. And remember to take your time getting where you are going.

Value your good health. Few senior citizens take their health for granted. Most people assume that dealing with aches and pains and struggling with what used to be easy is par for the course. But you don't have to meekly accept your fate. See a physician on a regular basis and be honest about what ails or concerns you. Sometimes what you fear can be quickly addressed with a change in medication or slight behavioral modification. Don't just grin and bear it. Look for help. And remember to do basic things to assist your efforts to maintain good health including regular exercise, a good diet, avoiding excesses, and staying positive.

Set up your home so furniture and layout are not hazardous. Little things can have a big impact as we age. An extra step when entering a doorway, a slippery shower, or cabinets too high to safely access can be dangerous. If you find yourself struggling, determine what you can do to improve the situation. If you have too many steps to get up to your bedroom, consider moving the bedroom downstairs. Motion activated lighting can help to shed light where and when it is needed. I am all for energy conservation, but a powerful bright light bulb goes a long way toward preventing injuries. Leave your high shelves empty of anything you may use on a regular basis. And door handles are easier to negotiate than standard knobs, especially if your hands are full. A little fine tuning can go a long way in making your home safer.

Beware of senior scams. Creative criminals threaten everyone and seniors in particular. If something sounds too good to be true, don't believe it. Do extensive research on anything that involves money, safety, or sharing private information. Become familiar with some of the typical scams targeting seniors from "friends and family" calling for money to bogus lottery winnings to high-pressure telemarketers. Check online on Google or Yelp to see how others have fared. If you receive an email that appears to be from someone you know that is missing a message or subject line and contains some unknown link, don't click on it. It's better to miss a cute picture than to introduce malware into your computer. A little skepticism can go a long way in dealing with potential scammers.

Be honest with yourself and others. If you need help, get it. It's very important to maintain your independence, but do not ignore the realities. If you cannot safely make it on your own, reach out to family and friends for assistance. Independence may become more difficult as we age, but we still have the freedom to choose our own path. You'll be able to stay in your current home and neighborhood longer if you build a support network of people who can help when it's necessary.

Dave Bernard is the author of Are You Just Existing and Calling it a Life?, which offers guidelines to discover your personal passion and live a life of purpose. Not yet retired, Dave has begun his due diligence to plan for a fulfilling retirement. With a focus on the non-financial aspects of retiring, he shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement-Only the Beginning.

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