Essential Conversations with Dr. Amy: Maximizing your quality of life as you age

We all want to make our own choices, maintain control over our life, and have independence as we age. So if this is feasible, how do we maximize the likelihood that we will achieve this goal?

I believe you can create the best quality of life possible in your later years if you think about, talk about and take action on some key areas, including where you live, the important relationships you have and the activities you are engaged in.

Living arrangements

Let’s consider the first area: where you might live. I encourage you to think about this in terms of both your early retirement years and your later years. What housing makes sense for the changing needs of your later years? I have found that very few people have given thought to this and usually wait too long to make a move. The result is often a diminished quality of life, because their housing no longer fits their needs and wants.

You can avoid this by asking the “Plan B” question: “If there were a shift in my health or mobility, or the health or mobility of someone I love, what might I do differently?” Specifically, where would be the best place for you to live so you can have a rich and interesting life as you age?

People don’t plan on feeling isolated in a home that becomes too much to care for; however, they may not have talked about how to shift their housing early enough to ensure they maintain an active social life and the quality of life they want.

Once you have time to think about what might make sense for you as you age, it is important to have conversations with the most important people in your life to let them know your thoughts and wishes. In addition, you may need their support in the third step, taking action. This could include exploring options, such as retirement living. There you will find that people have both privacy and ease in maintaining old friendships, kindling new ones and engaging in a variety of enjoyable activities.

Relationships and activities

Your relationships are the second area you might want to give thought to in order to ensure you have the highest quality of life possible as you age. Not thinking about this may mean you don’t have as many friends as you’d like as you get older.

You are probably aware of how important it is to invest time and energy in your relationships, especially in your later years. As we age, we may find we don’t have as many of the important people around us as we’d like—perhaps because friends have moved, relationships have changed, or some of the people we love have passed away before us.

Start by thinking about the most important people in your life right now. Are there ways you could invest more time and energy in those relationships? And remember the “Plan B” question. “How might your health or mobility, or your friends’ health or mobility, impact your ability to spend time together?” For example, what if you or they were not able to drive or participate in the activities that you enjoy doing together?

You might consider talking with your friends about how you can maintain your connection in the face of changes that might occur as you age. You might explore alternative transportation to driving, and even how you could live closer. And, you might also consider how you can create new friendships as you get older. We are never too old to create new close relationships; there is much evidence that people start happy and important relationships in their older years.

Achieving happiness and peace of mind

Remember: the goal of making your own choices and maintaining control and independence throughout your life. The only way to enhance the likelihood that you will have all of these is to think about what is important for you in relation to housing, friendship, and enjoyable activities, talk to those most important to you, and take appropriate action that will ensure your later years are as rich, or even richer, than your younger years. And yes, if we take these steps, it is definitely possible!

One of the best questions you can think about is, “What makes home feel like home to me?” When you identify some of the main things that contribute to your sense of home, you are then more likely to replicate those if you choose to move in the future