Aging independently

There's no way to know what the future may hold as you grow older. But you're more likely to enjoy an active, independent lifestyle if you engage in some advance planning.

And the sooner you begin to plan, the better, says Scott Parkin, former vice-president of the National Council on Aging (NCOA). People in their 50s should be thinking seriously about their future needs if they haven't already done so, he says.

Among issues considered important by Parkin and others who work with seniors are financial planning, physical and mental health, social relationships, and living arrangements.

Establish your financial footing

You should have a realistic picture of how much you will need to live on and where the money will come from, Parkin says. For example:

  • Make sure you're saving enough for retirement. Social Security alone might not be enough to meet your needs. If you are 60 or older, you will receive an annual Social Security report that will give you an estimate of your future benefits. Before age 60, you can ask the Social Security Administration for an estimate or obtain your personal statement online.
  • Know how much health coverage you can expect from Medicare parts A, B and D. You can learn more about the various Medicare options at medicare.gov. To pick up coverage where Medicare ends, you'll want to consider supplemental insurance (or Medigap) from a private company.
  • Look into financial aid. Government funds are available for home improvements, tax relief, legal services, home heating, medical services, food and other necessities. BenefitsCheckUp is a free and private online service provided by the NCOA to help you find out if you qualify for government and some other programs.

Take care of your body

There's no time like the present to give your body and mind what it needs to help you stay healthy later in life.

If you're not active now, start an exercise program slowly and gradually increase your strength and stamina. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says older adults should get 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking) every week or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (such as jogging). An equivalent mix of moderate and vigorous activities is also OK. In addition, older adults should perform activities that strengthen all major muscle groups on two or more days a week.

Your doctor can help you make a plan for exercising safely.

Addicted to an unhealthy diet of sugary, fatty foods? Change your menu to include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean meats.

If you're overweight, exercise and a healthy diet can help you shed pounds and protect you from diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

Exercising regularly, eating right and staying intellectually active can also contribute to mental vitality, the American Geriatrics Society reports.

Partner with your doctor

Talk to your doctor about current medical problems, and make a plan to address them.

Also, work with your doctor to help prevent future problems. Your doctor can tell you about screening tests you should have. These tests can help you find diseases, such as colorectal cancer, when they may be easier to treat.

Vaccines are another good way to protect your health. Ask your doctor about vaccines you may need.

Make your home safe

Some people prefer to downsize or move to a community designed with the comfort of seniors in mind. Others want to stay in their homes as long as possible. If you want to stay, consider making changes now that could be helpful in the future. For example, make safety modifications, such as adding grab bars in the tub or shower to help prevent falls—the leading cause of injuries to older people, according to CDC.

Consider having an occupational therapist assess your home environment to make additional suggestions.

Get help when you need it

Your community likely has resources that can help you stay independent even when you can't do everything yourself. Check them out now. Possibilities include:

  • Free or lower-priced public transportation that is easily accessible, or door-to-door transport that you can call for when you need it.
  • Chore services, such as housecleaning, yard work, grocery shopping or laundry.
  • Personal services to assist you with bathing or washing your hair.
  • Medication delivery from pharmacies in your area.

Re-evaluate your plan as necessary

Most people can't predict with accuracy what all of their future needs may be. At 80, you could function as well as a 60-year-old. Or you might have an unexpected physical or medical setback that causes you to need assistance sooner. You could have a financial windfall, or you might find your resources are disappearing more quickly than you thought.

That's why—even though you've planned ahead—you'll need to re-evaluate your situation periodically and make changes when they're needed.

reviewed 8/13/2019

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