Essential Conversations with Dr. Amy: A new view on independence

In our society, it’s common to congratulate people for staying in their own home as they grow older. People will say things such as, “Good for you, you are still independent!” Yet, independence is completely separate from where we live. Independence is about making our own choices and decisions and about having the time and energy we want to have as we age—not about staying in a home where we have lived for years.

A reason to stay

You may decide to stay in your home if living there is still working well for you at your stage in life. Perhaps you can still easily maintain your home and the day-to-day chores of living in your home (cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, etc.), you have plenty of social contact because you can get out of your home without difficulty and your friends are still mobile enough to do things with you, and you can comfortably access the activities that give you pleasure. However, if staying in your home requires too much effort—or you find you aren’t doing the above mentioned aspects of life with ease—choosing retirement living can be a positive lifestyle change with many benefits. Let me explain.

Redefining independence

People sometimes think they will lose independence if they leave their current home and move into a retirement home. But, in actuality, you may find you have more independence. Jim and Barbara,* a couple I know well, moved from their home of two decades into a retirement community and told me that they actually regained their independence because of the move, as they hadn’t realized how much of their “life energy” was spent performing daily chores and maintaining their home. While living in their own home, they had lost contact with friends who were unable to get out and socialize, and they simply weren’t having fun anymore.

When Jim and Barbara moved into retirement living, they suddenly had more time and more energy to do the things they loved, and were able to spend more time with old and new friends. Instead of the monotony of grocery shopping and cooking daily meals, they anticipated the delicious, healthy meals prepared by someone else. Barbara started taking an exercise class and has more vivacity than ever before. Jim started golfing again, a passion he had let go. Now that is independence!

Looking toward the future

To maintain our independence we have to be thoughtful and consider not only what is good for us at this very moment, but also about what is good for us in the next few years, in terms of our health and mobility. Many people compromise their independence by waiting too long to make a move out of the home they have lived in for many years. It is often challenging to sort through possessions accumulated over decades, and this can become harder as we age. On the other end of the move, people may find they are not able to take full advantage of all the perks retirement living has to offer if they become too ill: including access to new friendships, programs, and activities that lead to better health and increased fulfillment.

Let’s work to redefine “independence” as about making our own choices and having time and energy to live as we want to live, not about staying in a home we have lived in for decades. That will free us from holding on to a home that no longer is in our best interest and stepping into new and exciting chapters in our life.

*Names changed for privacy