The essentials of safe, independent living for older adults
Updated: Jan 16
It’s more important now than ever for everyone to feel a sense of independence and control over our lives. Having the freedom and flexibility to manage your life can have a significant impact on your well-being. That’s true whether you’re just out of school or long retired.
Living independently means something different for everyone. People face different daily challenges, which need to be taken at their own speed. That doesn’t mean there aren’t also common hurdles that people are likely to face at some point when living alone.
In this guide, we’ll look to provide a rounded approach for any senior people looking to live on their own safely and comfortably. We’ll cover accessibility options, types of independent housing, managing finances, and home safety improvements for peace of mind.
Support to help you live independently at home
Living independently doesn’t mean you can’t still ask for help and advice if you need it. There are a wide variety of resources that exist to give you the helping hand you need to maintain your independence at home. Some of the best include:
Supplementary care support. If you find you can still live at home relatively freely, but just need help with a few additional things, supplementary care might be the way to go. This personalized form of support might see someone come into your home and take care of things like cooking and cleaning while allowing you to retain your independence for the rest of your life
Talk to people you know. If you don’t feel comfortable having someone you don’t know supporting you, make sure to talk to those closest to you. They might be able to help with things like food shops or odd jobs around the home. What’s more, this gives you the chance to spend some quality time with the people you love.
Charities and non-profits. Age-related charities and non-profit groups are always on hand to provide guidance and support when you need it. They’ll be able to answer any questions you have while pointing you in the right direction for any additional services which might help your living situation.
Accessibility in the home
Accessibility isn’t a requirement for everyone, but it begins to become more of a factor to keep in mind as you get older. Setting up your home to ensure your needs are met is a huge step in remaining independent. Here are some suitable measures you may want to take:
An inclusive kitchen. To make a kitchen more easily accessible for your needs, it helps to have the worktops and appliances lowered. This makes cooking more accessible while giving someone with a mobility impairment the chance to move around the kitchen independently.
Access ramp. Again, whether it’s for wheelchair access or just to help reduce the strain on your knees, an access ramp is a good idea. If your home doesn’t have one, it’s relatively simple to install a ramp over any existing steps leading into your house.
Widened doorways. This is a must if you use a wheelchair. Doorways need to be wide enough to allow entry and exit with minimal restriction on a person’s movement. This is most important for areas like the bathroom and bedroom but should be something to think about all throughout the home.
Single-level home. While this is definitely not something you can fix in a pre-existing home, it’s a key consideration for any senior to make when choosing where to live. One-level homes, such as a bungalow, remove the need for climbing and descending stairs every day. Although, you could install a chair lift to help you go up and down the stairs if you’re unable to move house.
Portable hoist. This kind of device makes it a lot easier for someone to lift themselves up off a bed or sofa. While ideal for wheelchair users, hoists are also a good option if you have back or joint issues but are still able to move around freely once you’re on your feet.
It’s important to keep in mind that making these kinds of changes to your home can sometimes be expensive. While that shouldn’t dissuade you if you feel the changes are a necessity, it’s important to weigh your options first and find out what kind of support is available to you.
Technology as a tool to age in place
Technology is the ultimate asset for aging in place, if used with intention. Tech tools are much easier to use today than they were even just five years ago, and they can provide safety, convenience, and even some surprise and delight to the homes of older adults. Tech advances can also allow caregivers outside the house to monitor and provide support remotely.
Some tech tools to consider for your home:
WiFi with a broadband connection. Setting up wifi can at times be a daunting prospect, but luckily today there are many services that will deliver and install wifi for you. Once completed, you have the internet (and all of the knowledge, interaction, and connection it provides) at your fingertips 24/7.
Hall lights, smart plugs and smart lightbulbs programmed with a lighting schedule. Smart home accessories such as plugs and bulbs can help with managing a steady circadian rhythm and help us fall asleep and wake up on schedule each day. Hall and bathroom lights can prevent falls.
Virtual reality for at-home entertainment. Virtual reality (VR) offers the opportunity to achieve the physically impossible, from the comfort of one's living room, chair, or even bed. With a VR headset, older adults can travel the world, go to music concerts, see famous art pieces, and more. The opportunities are as limitless as your imagination. You can learn more about virtual reality by visiting Viva Vita's website.
Smart video doorbells such as Ring or Nest, door lock systems such as August Smart Locks and smart burglar/fire alarms. Smart security packages such as those from Vivint and SimpliSafe encompass these security features and more.
Smart medication aids such as the Reminder Rosie smart clock, Medminder pill dispenser, and Pria or Hero Medication management subscription services.
Smartphones and smartwatches. These tools can provide access ot applications that help with health and financial management, social interaction, household oversight and importantly, emergency response.
Cameras in and around the home give carers can access to check on the homeowner’s well-being and provide support remotely.
Home safety advice
Your home should be a place of comfort and security. Sometimes you’ll need to take additional steps to ensure that’s the case. Let’s take a look at what you can do to keep your home safe.
Crime prevention. Safeguarding against any kind of crime is always smart, regardless of your age and whether or not you live alone. Your house should be your sanctuary, so it’s important to do everything you can to keep it safe. Some of the best advice for preventing crime includes:
At-home adaptations like a letter box cage, a latch for doors that locks them automatically, a home security system, and a peephole on your door to see who’s visiting
Ensuring you lock all doors and windows whenever you leave the home
Keeping valuables hidden from sight
Making sure things which could be used to access your home (such as ladders or toolboxes) are not visible or accessible to strangers
A personal alarm, which you can set off at the touch of a button
Keeping gates and fences in good condition to prevent unwanted entry
It’s also important to be aware of potential online or phone scams. When dealing with people you’re communicating with via the phone or email you should:
Never share any personal information such as your bank details, card numbers, or PIN
Don’t give access to any of your personal devices (such as a computer). This is a common scam where a fraudster will tell you they need to access your PC in order to fix a non-existent issue
Only open emails from sources you know you can definitely trust
Ask as many questions as possible to ensure the person you’re talking to is who they say they are
Don’t engage with anyone you don’t know on any of your social media channels
If you feel like you might have been the victim of cybercrime, make sure to turn to Action Fraud, who will help you report the incident to the right authorities.
Gas and fire. Regularly check your smoke alarm is working and think about planning out a specific escape route in the unlikely event of a fire. If you smell gas at any point when you’re not cooking with it, be sure to have someone come out and check your appliances. Also, remember to never leave any cooking unattended and turn off all electronics after use.
Home maintenance. It’s always safe to turn to a professional for any fixes around the home. No matter what age you are, it’s best to leave complex home improvements and renovations to the experts – even if it is tempting to do them yourself. This is particularly true with complex things like electrics and plumbing.
Flood preparation. Certain areas of the U.S. are at a higher risk of flooding than others. Check to see if the area you live in falls into the danger zone. If it does, think about stocking up on items like a blanket, warm clothes, a first aid kit, water, food, and important telephone numbers and contact info.
Finance management when living independently
Staying on top of your money when there are so many other factors to keep in mind is important. There are plenty of ways to keep your finances ticking over without diverting attention away from the rest of your home.
Set goals. Having goals is a great way to make your money stretch further and last longer. These don’t have to be for anything too elaborate. Save towards leisure activities, holidays, or even set a target total to have in your account at the end of every year. They could also be savings pots to leave for your loved ones or plans to renovate or redesign parts of your home (for aesthetic or accessible purposes).
Understand what benefits you can get. Being over the retirement age in the U.S. means you’re entitled to a number of benefits to help make managing your finances a little bit easier.
Senior citizen discounts – what’s more, you’ll find once you reach a certain age, you’ll be offered discounts on a variety of factors. This extends to supermarkets, public transport, warm home discount, and leisure activities, to name just a few.
Write a will. If you don’t already have one in place, having a will drafted can be really important to help those close to you after you’re gone. Without a will, the government will distribute your estate, rather than it being spread out exactly as you would have wished. This is called the rule of intestacy. Some of the best advice for writing a will would be to:
Understand your estate. You need to have a clear handle on the debts and assets which belong to you. Assets include things like savings, pensions, property, life insurance policies, investments, and any other physical belongings.
Debts extend to any financial payment which you still owe, such as a mortgage, loan, or credit card bill.
Decide your beneficiaries. One of the nicer parts of will writing is deciding who gets what when you’re gone. Take the time to consider the needs of your loved ones, and what they would benefit from in both the short and long term.
Consider getting legal help. Writing a will on your own can be tough, so turning to legal advice in the form of a solicitor can be useful. This is a good idea if your estate is a little more complicated. For example, being married on multiple occasions or owning properties overseas.
Appoint an executor. The executor of your will is usually someone very close to you. It’s their responsibility to carry out your will as you intended, as well as pay any outstanding debts or taxes. If you don’t feel comfortable giving this role to a family member or friend, a solicitor may also be able to help.
Have your will witnessed and signed. In order for a will to be legally binding, it must be signed and formally witnessed by two individuals (above the age of 18). Failure to do so will make your will invalid.
Banks and charities can help you write your will if you don’t feel comfortable going through a solicitor. Once you’ve completed it, it’s wise to leave the official document with your bank, a registry office, a specialized will storage company, or with the solicitor who helped you write it.
Getting life insurance. Again, if you don’t already have a policy in place then having life insurance help to protect the people you care about when you’re gone, while also making it easier for them to manage expenses like funeral costs and the management of your property. Your premium will depend on the type of cover you take out.
Types of independent living opportunities
There’s more than one type of living environment to let you keep your much-needed independence. If you don’t feel comfortable making accessible adaptations to your current home, there are other options available.
Specialized housing. There are a variety of schemes and pre-adapted housing types to take advantage of. These will offer varying levels of independence, so be sure to do your research first.
Independent living communities. These communities offer a fantastic middle ground between solo living and day-to-day security while remaining completely independent. Your accommodation is yours to run as you see fit, but with the addition of communal areas where you can chat and meet new people.
As you might expect, there are additional costs to pay for living in accommodation like this. These will vary depending on the specific location, but some factors to keep in mind include:
What the base service charge is
What you get as part of that service charge
Whether or not you can pay for some charges with the help of a housing benefit
Whether the local council might be able to support your payment in some way
Park or mobile homes. These single-story homes are moveable, meaning you can live near family but remain in control of your daily life. There can be additional costs to these kinds of home ownership, including a “pitch fee” which needs to be paid to a local site owner.