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Independent Living or Living Indepenently: What Does That Mean As We Age?

Updated on September 5, 2012

Senior Living

The American way is one of independence, we are taught from a young age to become independent, make choices and find our own path. When we look at the senior community and those agencies, nonprofits and retirement communities offering support to our ageing population we find the montra; "We support independence, choice and dignity for our seniors as they age."

How do we define Independence? Webster's Dictionary defines independence as " the quality of being independent." and independent as "a. not subject to control by others : self-governing or b. not requiring or relying on others (as for care or livelihood) <independent of her parents>"

The ageing continuiun forces us to consider an adjustment of our definition of independence from the absolute control over our life, choices and reliance on others to some degree of allowance for functional and cognitive decline. Functional and cognative declines affect our our ability to successfully function independently without reliance on others for care an support.

Changing our approach helps us to recognize the need for support, framed by our acceptance of support and understanding that absoulte independence is given up by degrees throughout a natural ageing process allows for continued choice and dignity while living independently.

Independence and Ageing

The ageing community is typically divided into three segments:

  • Ages 65 to 74
  • Ages 75 to 84
  • Ages 85 and above

Considering these three age groups with functional decline in mind, gerontologists find a correlation between advancing declines and increasing need for supportive services. Functional declines double as elders progress through each stage requiring increasing support as each ageing milestone is reached. Figure 1.2 below shows roughly a doubling of in-home care visits as elders move through each age segment.

“Years wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.”

Douglas MacArthar

Where do people live when they get old?

The idea that the ageing in our communities will end up living in some type of retirement community or nursing home is simply unfounded. The most recent study conducted by the Interagency Forum on Ageing Statistics found that for the those persons over 65, 93% lived in traditional communities, 2% lived in community housing with services and 4% lived in long-term care facilities. However, the oldest of the old have the higest chance of living in a retirement community needing long term care:

Living Arrangements With Services

Age Group
Traditional community
Community With Services
Long-Term Care Community
65 to 74
75 to 84
85 and Older

Maintaining Independence

"We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how to respond to them."
- Epictetus

As a Gerontologist I have spent many years studying those ageing in our population and ask the question: What is the deffinfition of successful ageing and what are the traits of those who are independent at advanced age? There are many traits that accompany elders who reach advanced age, some genetic and some life style choices. However those who are most successful have learned how to adapt to the natural progression of ageing.

  • Keep Active. Elders who remain active and maintain exercise regimins, aerobic and core strength training, have better outcomes.
  • Adapt to Change. Elders who keep an open mind and adapt to health and functional changes remain independent longer
  • Know your own limits. Understanding your own abilities is key to making choices that lead to independence.
  • Get help when you need it. Asking for help when you need it will allow others to help you remain independent and at home.
  • Create a safe home enviornment. Falls in the home are a large contributor to injury among the elderly, often ending in the loss of mobility and independence.
  • Use adaptive equipment. Adaptive equipment such as hand rails, shower chairs and walkers reduce the risk of falls and help maintain safety at home and in the community.

What Does Independence Cost?

The single greatest cost of independence is comming to term with our own EGO! To understand the idea that we do not live in a vacume apart from others maintaining the idealistic definition of being independent.

The greatest risk to our independence is holding on to the belief that: "I can and will do it for myself." We all require some support throughout our life and resisting support in later year in the name of independence only leads to disaster and loss of independence.


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    • Purple Perl profile image

      Purple Perl 5 years ago from Bangalore,India

      Food for thought!