Many seniors want to stay in their homes as long as possible, treasuring their independence, and not wanting to leave the dwelling they have loved for many years. As people age, they will no longer be able to do certain things as they used to. Living alone after the 65 can be challenging, and as scary as it may sound, accidents may happen and there will be nobody to help you out.
Furthermore, those with severe health conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia will eventually have to accept help. Home care is a viable choice. It’s less expensive than living in a nursing home and you get to keep your independence. There are other options too, but parents and relatives don’t always have the time to check up on you every 4 times a day. A recent study in the American Journal of Public Health investigated the question of how seniors can adapt to disabilities, so they can stay in their homes as long as possible.
There are a range of difficulties that people face as they age. A person may no longer have the mobility to get around easily, they may not have the strength to handle cooking or shopping for themselves, there could be pain issues, cognitive issues that make handling finances a challenge, or even difficulty in basic functions like bathing or getting dressed.
The study covered 38 million seniors in the US, and divided people into five different categories based on how much difficulty they faced.
1) People who live on their own with no assistance (31%)
2) People who use technology to overcome their difficulties (25%)
3) People who cut back on their activities, but do not feel it is a problem (6%)
4) People who live on their own, but acknowledge that it is hard to do so (18%)
5) People who cannot live without assistance from others (20%)
The last category includes those seniors who live in nursing homes.
Previous studies had categorized senior citizens into simple “independent” or “disabled” categories. From these new results, it is clear that many older Americans do not really fit those categories. They may face disabilities, but they are adapting to them in ways that let them stay independent.
Those people who fall into category 2 are “successful adapters”. They have changed the way in which they deal with activities, or have modified their environment, so that they can still do the things they want to do on their own. Examples would be wearing a hearing aid, using a cane, or installing a grab bar in the bathroom.
Simple changes like this let people in group 2 continue to be independent. In fact, the people in this group reported a sense of well-being which was nearly as high as those who did not need any assistance at all. Dr. Linda Fried, from Columbia University, has studied how the elderly can adapt to disabilities. She said “It’s vital for us as a culture to understand that aging and losing some of our cognitive functions doesn’t have to be associated with the loss of independence.”
The seniors who were in category 3 and 4 either admitted they were having difficulties, or cut back on activities as a way of adapting. Perhaps they did not go outside anymore, or gave up a hobby because it got too difficult. People in these groups are still maintaining their independence, but with growing challenges in doing so. There could be adaptations or modifications that would help these people too, such as walkers or hearing aids.
Dr. Vicki Freedman from the University of Michigan, who was the lead author on the new study, said “finding new ways to endorse well-being and independence, now that we’ve finally identified them, is an imperative public health goal.”
Many seniors can live alone in spite of their disabilities. It’s the health care that matters. Are they properly attended at home? Are their loved ones dedicated enough or do they need to hire a home care assistant? Seniors don’t want to feel like a burden in the lives of their families. They choose to keep their independence for as long as possible because they want to believe they’re still healthy and very much alive.