Your Aging Parents: How to Extend Their Years of Independence in their Own Home


As the seniors in your life start getting up in years, you may worry about their living arrangements. However, many seniors worry about losing their independence. By planning ahead, you may be able to help your elderly loved one stay at home longer.

Lynette Whiteman, MS, Executive Director of Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey, shares her tips for helping seniors maintain their independence as long as possible.

Keeping in Touch

The key to is to be aware of the situation. Unfortunately, as Whiteman observes, “Parents are generally masters at covering up problems because they don’t want to burden their children and do not want their independence taken away.”

This is a challenge for family members who live far away because occasional visits and phone calls don’t provide a complete picture. In that case, it’s vital to find others who can serve as eyes and ears. They might be helpful neighbors, volunteer caregivers or home health agencies. Whiteman explains, “A home health care agency does not want to enable an unsafe situation for their aides, so they are often very honest with adult children.”

Resources for Maintaining Independence

Even family members who live nearby need to keep in close contact. It’s a good idea to discuss future plans before they are actually needed. “Have resources in place or ready to put in place,” recommends Whiteman.

Fortunately, there are a host of resources available.

  • Area Agencies on Aging: Whiteman counsels, “I encourage everyone to get a benefits screening from their local Area Agency on Aging. Each county in America has one.” Agencies can provide information about services in the area. These might include Meals on Wheels or home-health organizations.

  • Medical alert devices: In an emergency, being able to get a hold of rescue personnel is critical, but many seniors are hesitant to get an alert device. Whiteman reassures, “They can set it up so if they push the button, a family member or neighbor is contacted first and only if there is a true emergency do EMTs show up.”

  • Eldercare attorneys: By meeting with an attorney, families can set up power of attorney and medical directives.

  • Project Lifesaver: Police and sheriff’s departments offer monitoring devices to people with dementia. They are used to track people who wander off.

  • Veterans’ services: “There is a lot of help for veterans as far as medical equipment and aides that they are often not aware of,” says Whiteman.

Knowing When It’s Time to Move

As useful as the above resources can be, there may come a time when an assisted living facility or a nursing home is what is best for your loved one. Whiteman recommends keeping a lookout for the following signs:

  • Financial concerns: This includes neglecting to pay the bills or having unusual charges appear on credit card statements.

  • Signs of depression: Listen for statements like, “It’s my time,” or, “I’ve lived too long.” Sometimes an assisted living facility provides a necessary social outlet for seniors who have become isolated.

  • Neglect of personal care: If your loved one is losing weight from not eating enough, is not keeping up with bathing and other hygiene tasks or is skipping medication doses, these are signs that more help is needed.

  • Safety concerns: Wandering from home and increased falls indicate that your loved one’s safety is at risk.

Transitioning from the home can be a challenge, but if you plan ahead to help your loved ones maintain their independence, you’ll know you did everything you could for as long as you could.