This week with all the snow shoveling I did during the 24 to 30 inches of snow that fell on the Nation’s Capital, I was reminded of the importance of personal independence as we get older. Several years ago, during a lesser snow, one our senior neighbors was literally begging for help in getting his sidewalk shoveled so that he could have access to emergency vehicles. Naturally he was accommodated and his sidewalk was cleared by his neighbors.
That points out the dread, if not panic some seniors have at the thought of losing some or all of their personal independence and points out just how valuable that independence is to us.
All the other fears that we have as we get older seem to be part of that overall fear of having to depend on others to take care of us. Most of those fears are legitimate and while most of the readers of this article aren’t yet at the stage of becoming reliant on others, being forewarned is truly being forearmed.
What are some of the underlying reasons we may become dependent on others?
The first and foremost reason is falling. Many of us can catch ourself when we start to fall. It is when we reach our late sixties and up that our muscles weaken and bones become brittle to the point where a simple household fall may cause major injury. Broken hips are one of the main causes of loss of independence as we age. Some statistics show that most Emergency Room admissions for adults over 60 are a result of a fall. Most older fall victims end up in Nursing Homes or Assisted Living facilities within a year of breaking the hip. I must add that the number is declining as medical technology for repairing or replacing injured hips and knees improves and the procedures become more commonplace.
Another reason for loss of independence among older adults is a result of a long, lingering, debilitating illness. Most of us are able to recover fairly quickly from common illnesses. But as our immune system deteriorates from lack of self care, our immune system weakens and what may be just a normal illness, becomes a long term illness often requiring hospitalization or long term care.
Loss of vision and hearing as we age is another problem. We lose our driver’s licenses and we become dependent on others for mobility and other simple, basic needs. Some grocery stores and pharmacies are responding to those needs by providing delivery services to older adults, and some municipalities provide subsidies or free rides to older adults who can no longer drive.
Some things just “happen” with age. Knees and other joints begin to hurt and even need replacement. Heart conditions are often caused by things other than blockages (I speak from experience), and even being in the best physical condition cannot prevent them. It can help slow problems down, but can’t prevent them. And there are diseases that are “in the air” and we will get, no matter what. Even these can be fended off to some degree by good health and fitness, but the germ theory is still valid to the best of my knowledge and we can get sick even though we are in good health otherwise.
But for the most part, “diseases” of aging can be held off or even eliminated if we truly make an effort to exercise and eat sensibly. If we get plenty of oxygen in our blood, if we move our bodies, if we get the vitamins and minerals and macronutrients we need, we are more likely to live long healthy lives than if we abuse our bodies through stagnation and junk food.
Older adults don’t want to become dependent on anyone: the government, their kids, their neighbors or anyone else. Yet that can happen if we don’t take care of ourselves. The responsibility is ours to stay in decent physical condition, eat sensibly, and otherwise look after ourselves. Health, Fitness and Personal Energy are the cornerstones of true personal independence and it is up to each of us to make sure that we guard our own Fountain of Youth.
Thank you for reading.