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Keeping your independence as you age

Advanced medical care has lengthened our life expectancy, leading to growing populations of the elderly all over the world.

While senior citizens spend more time dealing with health-related issues as a result, and often have to rely on assistance to manage them, that does not mean you have to fully give up on your independence.

There are measures you can put into place to help maintain some of that independence for as long as possible.

Look after your nutrition

It is more critical than ever to maintain your health with high-quality nutrition as you age, though many might be tempted to do the opposite. Being retired or less active in work and society should not mean that you get a free pass on junk food, desserts and refined carbohydrates.

It’s perfectly fine to indulge in cakes or pies, especially if baked by your grandchildren, but continue to cook healthy meals daily. If you are physically unable to, find a healthy meal delivery service to help maintain that high-quality diet.

Look after yourself

Don’t dismiss signs and symptoms that something might be wrong with your body and get them checked out as soon as possible. Exercise will also have positive effects on you. Have you seen those viral videos of 70-year-old grandmas and grandpas lifting weights or dancing up a storm like they are in their 20s?

Exercise keeps your body younger, helps maintain strong muscles and bones, assists with relaxation and sleep, and improves your mood. If you’re feeling depressed or anxious, talk to someone.

Depression and anxiety don’t discriminate and can affect you at any time throughout life. Read or listen to good books, enjoy the company of great friends and travel to easy-to-reach destinations (when it’s safe to do so, of course).

Look after yourself by exercising, as well as getting any worrying signs or symptoms checked out quickly by a doctor. — Photos: Filepic

Create a safe home environment

When you’ve lived somewhere for a long period of time, we tend to take the layout for granted and forget about making it safe and accessible for an elderly person. It might be difficult to part with belongings, but clutter can be just as dangerous for seniors as it is for young children.

You can trip on items, stacked things can topple over, and dust and mould can gather in untended corners. Added to that, you might not have the energy to clean your house regularly.

And when you combine dim lighting, clutter and poor eyesight, the risk of stumbling and falling significantly increases. To improve your safety, add home modifications like rails, mats and chair lifts to ensure that bathrooms are slip-proof and upper levels are more easily accessible.

Get family members to help clear the excess clutter from your spaces, which will also help make your house less prone to a fire breakout. Another important element to help stay safe and independent at home, is to have an emergency response alarm in case you injure yourself and no one else is at home.

Apart from calling 999 (or 112 from a mobile phone), another option to alert emergency services is a wearable alarm band. The band not only monitors your health vitals, but also, and more importantly, includes an SOS button that will be on your wrist when you need to call for help.

Keep in touch

It’s easy to go about your daily business and forget to let your friends and family know that you are alright. There are many ways to keep in touch nowadays, other than arranging time for a phone call.

Get your younger family members to teach you how to use messaging apps on your phone, such as WhatsApp, WeChat and others, as well as social media apps like Instagram, where you can connect with friends and family all over the country and the world without having to travel far. You might even find fun in composing photos to post!

Don’t forget about keeping an active social life in person, with friends, neighbours, family and the broader community. It will improve your overall happiness, health and wellbeing, and your Instagram posts will look even livelier!

Find hobbies and other interests that you enjoy, such as religious activities or volunteering your time for a cause. If you enjoy the activity, it will make building connections with others even easier.

Find fun activities to do, and even better if it helps you connect with others in your community.

Consider getting home care assistance

Asking for help at your age shouldn’t be seen as a sign of losing your independence. It’s exhausting for people of all ages to maintain their home and look after their health, what more for senior citizens!

By seeking assistance for things like cleaning, cooking, organising, transport, nursing care or assistance with an exercise programme or physiotherapy, you’re ensuring that you get to stay in your home for as long as possible. Keep doing the things you enjoy and be spontaneous!

If you have always enjoyed activities like strolling around a shopping mall, people-watching at the beach or a special dinner with your favourite friends, there’s no reason to stop doing those things. Leave room to be spontaneous too, by finding opportunities to check those final items off your bucket list!

We are almost never too old to do anything, as long as you still have the willpower, determination and sufficient funds. Whether it’s cultivating the vegetable garden of your dreams or riding across the Mongolian desert on a camel, don’t wait, just go for it!

If you always envisioned yourself as a gardener extraordinaire, the retirement years are a great time to achieve such dreams.

Quality with quantity

Most of us would prefer to live a good, long life, but with longer life expectancy, comes potentially more health issues. Now, we also want to improve our quality of life, along with a longer life.

Thus, it is vital to do everything we can to stay healthy both mentally and physically, so that we stand a much better chance of remaining independent.

For different people, independence can mean different things.

For some, it is staying in their own home until the end.

For others, it is having the ability to live their daily life as normally as possible.

Regardless of what independence means to you, these general tips can help increase your chances of living a normal and more independent life.

By Datuk Dr. Nor Ashikin Mokhtar
Published in Star Newspaper, December 28, 2020

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