Maintaining Independence

No two adults age alike. Some older adults live well into their 80s and 90s with minimal challenges. Others need long-term support and care.

But what is the one thing every person wants as they age? Independence.

Here are some practical ways to help aging parents or loved ones maintain their independence.

Get to Know Their Needs

Do you know one most valuable things you can do as a concerned family member? Be a co-pilot in an aging parent’s care.

Your concerns about their decline may be valid. But it’s important to let older loved ones do as much on their own as they can — for as long as possible.

First, get a better understanding of their level of independence. Take note of things your aging relative seems to struggle with.

Signs your loved one may need help:

  • Piles of unopened mail
  • A growing amount of clutter in the home, like stacks of dirty laundry
  • Unkempt appearance or body odors
  • Changes in mood or personality
  • Expired products in cabinets or the refrigerator

Solutions to enhance independence:

  • Do your parents seem to keep a clean house but can’t stay on top of home repairs? Hire a fix-it service.
  • Does your father-in-law seem lonely and isolated but still does his own grocery shopping? Consider a pet for companionship or encourage participation in community groups.

Make suggestions and offer help, but respect their right to say no. Remember: your parent is still an adult, regardless of decline or diagnosis.

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Adapt the Home

Make the home age friendly. Here are four easy changes you can do yourself:

  1. Install handrails and non-slip mats in the bathroom
  2. Move your aging parents to first floor-level living to avoid using the stairs
  3. Prevent falls by removing trip hazards (such as loose cords and wires, throw rugs, and clutter)
  4. Use a medical alert system so they can call for help if needed

Have a Crisis Plan in Place

Discuss options and preferences for care before a crisis happens. Establish a health care proxy. Gather vital documents like advance directives and a list of medicines.

Make sure this information is easily accessible in an emergency. Ask your parent’s geriatrician or primary care doctor to confirm information.

Check In Often

Check in on a regular basis. Ask direct questions like “Did you go out for the mail today?” or “What did you have for lunch?” Call at different times of the day to get a sense of how things are going 24/7. If mom has always been a morning person but sounds tired when you call, she might not be sleeping well. Encourage older loved ones to stay connected too. Set up FaceTime calls with grandkids or siblings who live out of state.

Partner With a Provider You Both Trust

Having a primary care provider you both trust is key to maintaining independence in old age. Geriatricians in particular are well-versed in the unique care needs of older adults.

A geriatrics professional understands Medicare and Medicaid. They know about community resources like PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care of the Elderly), and they’re informed about cutting-edge research and treatments for Alzheimer’s and other diseases affecting older adults. Visit UPMC Geriatric Medicine for more information.

To connect with a geriatrician for help with an older adult’s health care needs, call the UPMC Benedum Geriatric Center at 412-692-4200 or the UPMC Senior Care Institute at 412-623-2700.

About Geriatrics

UPMC geriatric medicine seeks to enhance the lives of older adults through clinical care and research. We are nationally recognized for our expertise; our multidisciplinary team specializes in care for seniors. We diagnose and treat a wide variety of conditions affecting seniors, including medical, physical, cognitive, psychological, and social. Our hope is to provide the best care in people’s later years. We can help on an inpatient or outpatient basis, for short-term or long-term conditions.