Midsection of male patient walking with zimmer frame at gym

    How to stay independent as you get older

    17 December 2018

    The idea of getting old fills many people with dread, but why do we perceive ageing as a bad thing? The later years can be an incredibly rewarding and fulling period of your life – a time where independence can not only be maintained but fully embraced and enjoyed.

    So what steps can you take to support your independence and ensure you can continue to live your life at its fullest?

    Be proactive

    It is very tempting to avoid seeking help for health issues if they are perceived to be ‘par for the course’. There is a fine line between accepting inevitable changes and living with impairments that could be improved. It is a regular source of frustration for me as a physiotherapist when I see patients too late, outcomes are so much better when treated earlier. Learning your normal and detecting subtle changes in your daily activities may help you identify and subsequently address problems before they become a major issue. You can reverse or minimise some of the changes you experience including reduced mobility, visual problems, bladder and bowel control, and hearing loss. Hearing aids are a simple solution, but people often wait until things are really bad before they get them and so learning to live with sound again is more difficult. The Lancet International Commission on Dementia, Prevention, Intervention, and Care has estimated that mid-life hearing loss, if eliminated, might decrease the risk of dementia by nine percent. Early action is definitely better.

    Stay active

    As we get older we begin to see changes in the way that our bodies work, whether it’s difficulty with mobility or trouble remembering things, but many of these changes can be stopped in their tracks with some simple daily routines and exercises. Muscle loss is one element that many attribute to the ageing process, and while from the age of 40, adults lose 8 per cent of their muscle mass per decade, it is more common among people who live unhealthy lifestyles. To help combat this and stay active, a chair could actually be your best friend. You can use it as a station for doing a range of exercises, including knee extensions and sit to stand – all of which can be done with or without weights, depending on your ability.

    Keep your mind alert

    Everyone experiences some form of cognitive decline as they age, forgetting items or missing appointments, but it is not inevitable, and there are a number of actions you can take to stay alert and keep on top of your busy schedule. Exercise is a great route to take for better brain health, as it improves the flow of blood to your brain. Studies have shown that older people who have consistently undertaken moderate activity have a 36 per cent lower risk of cognitive impairment when compared to those that did less exercise.

    If physical exercise isn’t your cup of tea, or isn’t feasible, then there are other ways for you to keep your brain engaged. Why not read a book, complete a jigsaw or crossword, play a game of chess, or try to learn a new skill. Any activity that necessitates mental application and engagement will help to retain cerebral capacity, thus maintaining mental ability and your independence.

    Search for a new hobby

    It’s time to put the age old saying ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ to bed. While it can be harder to pick up new skills as you grow older, your brain still has an amazing ability to learn and you’ll be surprised at how much it comes down to confidence.

    There are lots of activity classes and community spaces designed specifically for over 65s to give you a chance to learn new things. AgeUK, for example, runs computer training courses across the country. Volunteering is also a great way to satisfy your social needs and engage with your neighbours; 62 percent of over 65s have volunteered in the last 12 months, and you can join them by visiting your local community centre, library or church to explore the options available.

    Embrace technology

    There is a stereotype that technology is only for the young, but there is no need for this to be the case. If anything, technology enables you to maintain independence for longer. For example, social media networks facilitate face-to-face contact, which may be useful if you do not live near friends or family. Connected home technology, such as smart locks, lights and automated thermostats make life more convenient. For example, automated thermostats allow for the heating to be adjusted without having to physically move.

    As we get older, we are often told we have passed our prime. But people are living for longer and have so many options available to them – we need to embrace this as a generation.

    Louise Rogerson is the COO of Howz, the home monitoring system that keeps families up to date with the wellbeing of elderly relatives, alongside being a chartered physiotherapist with 18 years’ experience of working in the NHS in clinical, operational and commissioning roles