Skip to main content

Aging independently

An aging couple on a hike.

The choices you make now can help ensure that you’ll live where and how you wish for years to come.

There's no way to know what the future may hold as you grow older. But you're more likely to enjoy an active, independent lifestyle if you engage in some advance planning.

Here are some of the main issues considered important by people who work with seniors:

  • Financial planning.
  • Physical and mental health.
  • Living arrangements.

Establish your financial footing

You should have a realistic picture of how much you will need to live on and where the money will come from. For example:

  • Are you saving enough for retirement? Social Security alone might not be enough to meet your needs. Social Security sends workers 60 and older benefit statements to let them know how much they can expect to earn in retirement. To request a copy of your latest Social Security statement, visit your local Social Security office. Or visit the Social Security Administration online to learn more about your retirement benefits.
  • Do you know how much health coverage you can expect from Medicare parts A, B and D? You can learn more about the various Medicare options at medicare.gov. To pay for expenses Medicare doesn't cover, you may want to consider buying supplemental insurance (or Medigap) from a private company.
  • Look into financial aid. BenefitsCheckUp is a free and private online service provided by the National Council on Aging to help you find out if you qualify for government or other programs. You may be eligible for benefits to help pay for food, medicine, rent and other daily expenses.

Take care of your body

There's no time like the present to give your body and mind what it needs to help you stay healthy later in life.

If you're not active now, start an exercise program and slowly increase your strength and stamina. Health experts recommend adults get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise.

Aerobic activity is any exercise that gets your heart beating faster—such as brisk walking, bicycling or swimming. You should also do muscle-strengthening exercises at least two days a week. This could include working with weights or elastic bands.

Before you begin a new exercise program, ask your doctor what kind of activities would be safe and appropriate for you.

Eating healthy foods can help lower your risk for chronic diseases—such as heart disease or diabetes. But it also can benefit your brain. Science is studying whether a healthy diet can help maintain brain function or possibly reduce the risk for Alzheimer's disease.

In general, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) recommends a diet that focuses on:

  • Fruits and vegetables.
  • Whole grains.
  • Lean meats, fish and poultry.
  • Low-fat or non-fat dairy products.

You also should limit solid fats, sugar and salt.

Also, you may be able to keep your brain sharp with mental exercise, such as reading books, playing games, taking a class or learning a new skill. These kinds of activities haven't been proven to help prevent dementia, notes the NIA. But research suggests they can make the brain more nimble in the face of age-related changes and health conditions.

Make your home safe

Some people prefer to downsize or move to a community designed with the comfort of seniors in mind. Others want to stay in their homes as long as possible. If you want to stay at home, consider making changes now that could be helpful in the future.

For example, make safety modifications such as adding grab bars in the tub or shower to help prevent falls—the leading cause of injuries to older people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .

You can also prevent falls by:

  • Removing clutter from your floors.
  • Removing area rugs or securing them with double-sided tape.
  • Have handrails and lights installed on all staircases.
  • Make sure your home has lots of light.

Ask your doctor if they know of a fall prevention program in your community.

Get help when you need it

Many communities have low- or no-cost public transportation for older adults or people with disabilities. You might also find out if a church or other local organization offers volunteer escort services to take people to the doctor. To learn about resources in your area, contact Eldercare Locator.

You also might consider hiring help, such as someone to do your yard work or clean your house.

Many grocery stores offer online ordering and home delivery. Some pharmacies also offer home delivery of medications.

Reevaluate your needs as necessary

Most people can't predict with accuracy what all of their future needs may be. At 80, you could function as well as a 60-year-old. Or you might have an unexpected physical or medical setback that causes you to need assistance sooner. You could have a financial windfall, or you might find your resources are disappearing more quickly than you thought.

That's why—even though you planned ahead—you'll need to reevaluate your situation periodically and make changes when they're needed.

The truth about aging

Is it just an old wives' tale? Check out these nine myths about aging.

reviewed 11/15/2019

Related stories