Independent living

Surveys conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and others indicate that retired people, given the choice, prefer to live in the homes in which they had been living prior to retirement. One's own home tendsto represent security and independence to most retired Americans. But becausemost housing in this country is designed for young, active and mobile people, individuals wishing to live in their own homes upon retiring must, at the very least, be able to drive, shop, cook, and perform household chores. Because most elderly persons lose one or more of these abilities as they grow older, the percentage of elderly persons living alone in the 1990s is currently only about 28% according to the AARP.

Not everyone, however, is in complete agreement about the meaning of living independently. Some elderly persons think living independently means being able to take care of oneself in general or to be able to manage on one's own, while others think living independently means living in one's own home. But mostly everyone agrees that the key to independent living is being able to takecare of oneself. Studies have shown that the problems most seniors identify as impediments to living independently are physical health problems, and, to alesser extent, mental health problems.

In terms of the types of assistance that seniors feel they need to enable them to continue living independently, most seniors point first to financial support, and secondly to transportation assistance. Turning to the need for information, many elderly persons feel they need help with finances, budgeting, and paying bills if they are to continue living independently; they also pointto their need for help getting health information. One alternate to living alone that has worked for many retired persons is to move into an independentliving retirement community where meals, housekeeping, activities, transportation and security are provided as part of a comprehensive service package. Yet another alternative is homesharing, in which two or more unrelated personsshare a house or apartment. Everyone in the homesharing arrangement is free to use the common areas of the house, such as the kitchen and living room. However, each homesharer also has some personal space, usually a bedroom, wherehe or she can have privacy.

Homesharing has helped elderly people remain independent and at the same timereduce their housing costs. Not surprisingly, weighing the advantages of service-oriented housing or homesharing against the independence offered by a single family home can prove a complicated task for many seniors. Studies haveshown that those persons who are most successful in maintaining an independent lifestyle in old age are those who continue to maintain a positive outlookon life, pay close attention to their diets, remain physically active, take precautions to eliminate causes of accidents and prepare for emergencies in the home, keep mentally alert, and plan carefully for their financial needs.

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