Q: My biggest fear is losing my independence as I age. What can I do now to help keep my independence longer?

A: Losing independence is one of the top fears people experience as they get older. We live in a society that values independence, being self-sustainable and not needing to rely on anyone else. However, the past few years experiencing a pandemic has shown us that our society really needs to work on valuing inter-dependance as well.

All too often I see people decline because they do not want to ask for help. They become isolated and are unable to get their needs met. Their fear of depending on others, or burdening others, prevents them from having the best quality of life possible.

Certainly, there are things you can do to set yourself up for the best chances at maintaining the most independence you can have. But, I also encourage us all to rethink the value of independence. Or to even rethink the definition of independence.

Perhaps by thinking ahead, as you are doing now, you can make the decisions for how you want to live in the future if you become frail or have physical or cognitive needs. By making those decisions and talking to your loved ones now about how you would like their help if needed in the future, you are being independent by making decisions for yourself.

For people who do not think ahead and talk about these issues, if they become incapacitated later, it falls on the family to make those decisions for them. I think for many there is a worry that by talking about these possibilities it will somehow make them happen. But by not talking, that is when we end up with other people’s opinions on how one should live imposed onto us. That is probably the true fear of losing independence.

This is the time to think about what is most important to you for your quality of life. Do you want to remain in your home, or would you prefer to move a place that has the care, supervision, activities and a social life built in? If you prefer to stay at home, examine your environment for safety and fall risks, and start making adaptations to ensure it is safe as you age.

If you need care or help in the future, is there someone you will want to oversee it for you? Talk to them now about what will be important to you and how they can help arrange care in a way you will prefer. Do you expect them to hire caregivers, or will family provide the help directly?

These are not easy things to think about, as they may make us feel vulnerable. But the reality is that nearly 70% of older adults will need some type of long-term care. By talking about it now you can have your wishes known.

When planning ahead it is a good time to ensure you have an up-to-date Advanced Health Care Directive. This document states clearly your health care preferences, including the types of special treatment you want or don’t want at the end of life.

While we cannot ensure independence will always be preserved, we can plan and take steps to let our wishes and values be known to those around us. In the end, we must be open to help if needed and see inter-dependance as not a weakness, but a strength. We all need a little help sometimes and being able to recognize when and how is most important.

Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at mshapiro@seniorconcerns.org.

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