Living Socially and Independently: Helping Older Adults Live Better as They Age

Written by Justin Walls on . Posted in Features

Have you watched a loved one struggle with living independently? Whether the result of age, illness, or other incapacitating circumstances, it can be challenging to identify what someone needs in order to live on his or her own or with live-in assistance. Using a checklist of measurements of wellness as a guide, families can identify areas such as exercising more often, increasing social activities, or challenging cognition where they or outside assistance can help improve a loved one's health and quality of life.

First, let’s look at physical health. Various health conditions that can most adversely affect a loved one’s ability to care for his or herself. Examples are chronic diseases such as diabetes, vascular disease affecting heart function, respiratory diseases affecting the lungs, neurological disorders like Parkinson’s, and bone and muscle loss from diseases such as sarcopenia and osteopenia. One or a combination of these chronic issues can make it more challenging to get out of bed and move around. Additionally, issues like arthritis compound movement restrictions, so it’s important to get guidance from a doctor and physical therapist on how to best help someone suffering from chronic ailments to improve their ability to move.

It’s also important to be aware of cognitive issues that may result from suffering from long-term diseases, such as a movement disorder, chemical dependency on drugs, or anxiety and depression developing from the loss of independence caused by these diseases. Understanding the challenges of someone facing these hurdles can help you understand how to best reach out and help someone overcome them.

Once you have generated a list of chronic conditions your loved one is currently experiencing, it is important to next assess how he feels about himself. I call this a “self-assessment of wellness.” Some good questions include: Would you describe your health as excellent, needs work, or not good? Do any health issues interfere with your ability to go about your day?
If yes, does it interfere significantly, often enough to notice, or only once? Have you been experiencing pain or discomfort throughout your body? If yes, would you say it is a little, a lot, or incessant? How would you describe your quality of life using a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being lowest? Once you get an idea of how your loved one views their personal wellness, you can begin to get a good sense of the activities in which they engage, and which ones they don’t.

With a clear picture of the diseases and personal wellness your loved one has provided the next thing is to see if they are taking care of themselves and where you can best help them feel like they’re an active participant in their own life. I have identified three major categories to discuss — activities of daily living (ADLs), instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), and social engagement. ADLs are basics, like being able to rise from bed and use the restroom. IADLs are more involved, like doing laundry, preparing food, or paying bills. Social engagement is how often they’re getting out and meeting friends. This is where you’ll be able to make the greatest impact in helping someone who has a difficult time getting around to do things, possibly with people their own age, stay active and feel better about themselves.

Finally, the goal of this assessment is to ascertain negative responses and attempt to remedy them through activity, treatment, or dependent care. Putting together a comprehensive plan is the best way to help someone who is feeling stuck at home.

(For a full checklist of the measurements referenced in this article, visit

By Justin Walls

 Justin Walls is the owner of Rockville Personal Training LLC in Rockville, Maryland. He specializes in post-rehabilitation and medical exercise, general fitness for all age groups, and using the latest technology in the industry. He can be reached at 240-630-0298 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .