Posting this blog so close to the 4th of July may have you thinking this post is about Independence Day, but it is actually about something else - personal independence, the ability to live independently.
The first part of our lives we are completely dependent on the adults in our lives, be it parents, grandparents, or some other adult caretaker. We are unable to feed ourselves, clean ourselves, protect ourselves, shelter ourselves, basically we are vulnerable to everything. As time passes, we grow, we learn, we develop the skills needed to take care of ourselves. As teenagers we push for independence, we long for the day when we can be on our own, make our own rules, choose our own destinies. That day comes, and we head out into the world, on our personal path - career, family, travel, and all the adult responsibilities we spent our teenage years pining for. As adults, some of us live the lives we imagined we would, some of us strive everyday to achieve that goal life, and some of us resign ourselves to the life we ended up with. For most of us we are able to feed ourselves, shelter ourselves, keep ourselves healthy, transport ourselves, and earn money. As we do this, day in and day out, we take for granted our ability to live independently. Years go by, we get older, we get wiser, yet we don’t always see the possibilities that lie ahead.
As we move into the latter part of our lives we may end up somewhere we never expected - alone, isolated, with a diminished capacity to live independently. Our faculties may betray us, causing us to no longer be able to transport ourselves. This means no trips to the grocery store, no running out to the library, and no meeting friends for lunch. What seemed like a simple household task, like changing a light bulb, may now be a dangerous endeavor if climbing onto a chair is involved. If we have adult children, they may have moved away. Our network of support may be shrinking. The more isolated we are, the more at risk we are for depression, cognitive decline, and other mental health issues. We want our independence. We want to stay in the house we made a home. We want to feel comfortable and in control. The reality though is that without support, tough decisions will need to be made. This may mean moving into a senior housing facility, assisted living community, or nursing home - places we never thought we would end up.
Studies show that on average, older adults who stay home, as opposed to moving into a nursing home, live 3.4 years longer. While there are many factors at play, it should not be overlooked that state of mind plays a part in our health. Losing our independence can have negative effects on our mental health. For some, based on health conditions, an assisted living community or nursing home may be the only option. However, others might just need help at home.
We want to be independent, but we don’t want to be alone. The reality is life bookends itself with dependency, with the difference being, at the start of the book there are more people who want to help us. So how do we maintain independence? How do we age in place? First, we have to take an honest look at our situation, current health conditions, and what assistance we need. Then we need to find the appropriate resources that will allow us to age in place. Programs like Bergen Volunteers’ CHEER, CHORE, and Mentoring assist older adults with errands, minor home repairs, and combating isolation. Of course, each person’s situation is different. For some, an assisted living facility may be the safest option, but for those who can stay home, there are resources available.
Letting go of our independence may be one of the hardest things we do in life. Being able to hang on to it for just a little longer, even in a lesser capacity, can make a big difference in our lives.
For more information on Bergen Volunteers Senior Programs visit: https://www.bergenvolunteers.org/programs