Independent Living for Seniors

8 Steps to Help Seniors Age in Place
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Assess the situation for independent living

The great majority of older adults say they'd prefer to live out their days in their own home. The likelihood of making independent living work is much greater, though, if everyone involved does some conscious planning -- the earlier the better. These eight steps will set you on your way.

1. Have a group or family meeting.

This is the first step toward building what Ann Cason , author of Circles of Care: How to Set Up Quality Home Care for Our Elders, calls a "circle of care." This network may include paid caregivers, health care providers, friends, and neighbors as well as family members. With planning, you can all work together to provide a web of support for older adults as they continue to age.

Such a meeting is also a good opportunity get clear early on about what care-giving duties the older adults in your care may -- perhaps unconsciously -- expect you to assume as they get older, and what you and other caregivers or siblings are (and aren't) willing or able to take on. A frank conversation about this upfront can help avert potential resentment or disappointment down the line.

2. "Future-fit" their home for independent living

Take a tour of their home, perhaps with them, and think about how to make it safer and more navigable. Everything from a grab bar in the bathroom to a variety of new high-tech gadgets aimed at helping elders live independently at home safely are worth a look.

Your local Area Agency on Aging or a private geriatric care manager can refer you to an occupational therapist who can help identify hidden hazards and ways to make their home easier to navigate as they get older. The occupational therapist may also be able to recommend companies or tradespeople who can make necessary renovations.

This is also the time to think about downsizing -- helping them get rid of decades of accumulated belongings that can make their home harder to maintain as they age.

Create an independent living care plan

3. Observe and then put together a plan

A family member or caregiver should start by spending a day with them, suggests Cason, writing down their daily routine. This will let you know when they are most alert and active, and also when they're most likely to be tired, depressed, or anxious. Then you can help plan activities for when they're at their best, and perhaps extra care du ring the low points of the day, when they may be more vulnerable to accidents or just feeling blue.

Practical needs to consider might include:

  • Transportation Do they plan to continue driving? What are the options in their area if they need to stop driving at some point?
  • Finances Do they have the income to cover their needs, including in-home care if they could use it? If not, what public or private resources can they or their family draw on to help? Do they plan to manage their own finances, or do they need or want help? If they do, how do they find that help ?
  • Health care Do they live near their doctors and a hospital? What do they plan to do if they have a medical problem on the weekend or on a holiday?
  • Household maintenance Which tasks can they still handle, and which do they need help with? Who is available -- volunteer or professional -- to help out?

4. Explore all the options

Options for independent living have changed just as much in recent years as those for out-of-home care. As you plan, consider some of the less-obvious solutions, such as a home share , putting in a specially designed backyard cottage called an ECHO , or helping them turn their neighborhood into a naturally occurring retirement community , in which older neighbors organize, sometimes with the help of a community agency, to provide collective services.

5. Learn about in-home care resources for independent living

Independent living doesn't have to mean going it alone. In-home care options run the gamut from basic services such as housekeeping and meal delivery all the way to live-in nurse's aides.

Examine independent living alternatives

6. Make a contingency plan

Don't get caught unprepared by an illness or sudden change in health in those you're caring for. Get to know local senior communities and skilled nursing facilities. Ask the older adults in your care where they'd prefer to go should the need arise. If possible, visit those communities and keep a file with information about eligibility requirements, costs, and application processes.

7. Re-assess regularly

Age -- and the decline in ability that often comes with it -- happens gradually, so those closest to an older person can sometimes miss signs of deterioration. Jot down some baseline notes about how they're doing -- physical mobility, capacity to take care of themselves and their home -- and then reevaluate every six months or so to make sure you aren't missing a new need or issue.

8. Build in joy

Sometimes, says Ann Cason, we spend so much time worrying about protecting older adults' health and keeping them safe that we forget to help them plan their lives around the things they enjoy. They chose to live independently for a reason. Find out what pastimes and pleasures are most important to them -- whether it's a meal with the grandchildren, a drive in the country, or a weekly card game wit h friends -- and try to find ways to help them continue to pursue those things they enjoy.

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Nell Bernstein

Nell Bernstein's writings have appeared on Salon. See full bio

over 2 years, said...

my brother anI want to be together ,he is 77 and i am 86 we are from a big family and want to stay together ,we are both on limited income and we could pay about 250. or 300. each . we live in the modesto area and would like to remain in that area.

about 3 years, said...

Hello, If you are looking for housing options, has a team of Family Advisors that can help. This is a free service, available 7 days a week. You can reach a Family Advisor at (800) 325-8591.

about 3 years, said...

Need a place that is dog friendly.

about 3 years, said...

The link for NORCs didn't work. I think you meant to link to

over 3 years, said...

I need to wear a camera on my shirt like a button that can be seen online, I need someone to watch online to offer me some type of security, i have seizures and medic alert doesnt work when I have seizures, who can I pay to watch online when I wear a camera on my shirt like a button for my safety, Thank you

over 3 years, said...

Hello Gwen, You may want to call's Family Advisors at (800) 325-8591. This is a free service and available 7 days a week. They are willing to help you locate an affordable place to live. -Rosa

over 3 years, said...

My husband and myself are looking and thinking about Independent, but do not have alot to spend. Need 2 bedroom, unfurnished, dont have stove, or refrigerator. Nice people, people our ages, allow pets low pricing. We do for ourselves just fine. I am in worse shape than him, but he takes care of me. I am 66, he is 74.If I need for something like this, then how do I able for Section 8??? Need someones input. Right now live with oldest daughter, grandsons, boyfriend. Just time to leave while we are still speaking.

almost 4 years, said...

It helped in differentiating independent and assisted living, and the necessity of finding a place that offers BOTH without moving from your independent apartment in order to receive assistance later when needed.

about 4 years, said...

provided some meaningful and thought-provoking insight as to what to look forward to sooner than later.

over 5 years, said...

I don't understand why people cling to their house when they can't maintain it any longer. Once I finally made the move to independent living, I would never go back. Good food, good companionship, it is a true community. I feel perfectly safe leaving my husband, who has mild dementia, for 2-3 weeks while I travel. He can get to meals and read up on the activities, and I can call every day or two. If he should fall, he has an alert button and the gated community is as safe as can be. He did burn tsome toast and set off the smoke alarm while I was gone, and he couldn't figure out how to open the window--but someone came right away. Yes, everyone here is old, and a lot of them are physicially and/or mentally challenged. But it is really a good move, better than living with your children or in a huge old dirty house.

over 5 years, said...

anyone who wishes to be a roommate at my house in North carolina

over 5 years, said...

I am not looking to start an independent living center. I want someone to share my home with.

over 5 years, said...

I am a 66 year old woman, who wishes to share my home with another older female

over 6 years, said...

I wish that I had something to make it easier when my Father had Alzheimers, who is now deceased, and now with my Mom who just turned 87 and also lives in independent living. Because of what I see with both my parents and other elderly, seniors, disabled and special needs individuals, my business partner and I researched and recently became Northern California distributors of two types of systems, one is called CloseBy and the other VitalPoint. CloseBy uses advanced motion sensor technology that learns the daily living patterns of seniors and sends alerts (text or email) when certain out-of-the-ordinary events occur. It helps put families first, and to give them all peace of mind never before possible. The basic system includes a sensor for the bed, one sensor for the easy chair, a sensor for the stove in case it's left on too long, sensors for the doors, cabinets, medicine cabinets, etc. Optional video cameras can also be purchased that can be mounted outside on the front porch so you know who is at the door. The VitalPoint Home Monitor is another system which is intended to be used as a clinical tool for remotely monitoring a patient's health status at home or in another healthcare facility. The system is intended to guide patients through a set of scheduled activities whereby medical data (vital signs, symptoms, and medication compliance) is collected. The system is intended to transfer the collected data to a remote site where it is stored and reviewed by a clinician. The system is also intended to allow the clinician to modify the patient's scheduled activities in response to the collected medical data or other information available to the clinician. The intent is to provide clinicians caring for patients outside the hospital with a means for keeping track of how the patients are doing without the patients having to come in for a checkup or requiring the clinician to go to the patients. It provides periodic remote monitoring of the patients self-reported symptoms or vital signs, including: "¢ Non-invasive blood pressure "¢ Oxygen saturation "¢ Pulse rate "¢ Temperature "¢ Weight "¢ Blood glucose level "¢ Fluid status "¢ Prothrombin time "¢ Electrocardiogram (ECG) and heart rate monitors WARNING: THE DEVICE LABELING ADVISES PATIENTS TO CONTACT THEIR CAREGIVER, NURSE, OR DOCTOR; CALL LOCAL EMERGENCY NUMBER AS APPROPRIATE; OR GO TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM WHENEVER THEY FEEL THE NEED TO DO SO. THE VITALPOINT HOME MONITOR DOES NOT ANALYZE PATIENT INFORMATION, NOR DOES IT OFFER MEDICAL ADVICE. NEITHER THE VITALPOINT OR CLOSEBY HOME MONITOR IS NOT AN EMERGENCY RESPONSE SYSTEM. I hope this information is helpful for those caregivers looking for some sort of help. I wish I had these when my Father was alive. There is more info at

over 6 years, said...

Hi aaderosas, Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, does not have any resources or expert knowledge on how to start your own independent living center, but I wish you the best of luck. Take care -- Emily | Community Manager

over 6 years, said...

hi can anyone tell me how to start an independent living center. We want to convert a house do we need licensing to do an independent living center in california what steps do we need to take to legalize everything or can we just start it?

almost 8 years, said...

i was looking for housing ?i live on my own. i live in the middletown ct. area. thank you. butch.

about 10 years, said...

This is a wonderful outline of things to do to prepare for this serious life change. I would like to get permission to print it or link to it on my website.