6 ways you can prepare to “age well”

You're probably already doing a lot to ensure that you stay in good health and are able to enjoy your later years: eating right, exercising, getting checkups and screenings as recommended by your doctor. But it also makes sense to have some contingency plans for the bumps in the road that might occur.

  1. Adapt your home. Stairs, baths, and kitchens can present hazards for older people. Even if you don't need to make changes now, do an annual safety review so you can make necessary updates if your needs change.
  2. Prevent falls. Falls are a big deal for older people — they often result in fractures that can lead to disability, further health problems, or even death. Safety precautions are important, but so are exercises that can improve balance and strength.
  3. Consider your housing options. You might consider investigating naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs). These neighborhoods and housing complexes aren't developed specifically to serve seniors — and, in fact, tend to host a mix of ages — but because they have plenty of coordinated care and support available, they are senior-friendly.
  4. Think ahead about how to get the help you may need. Meal preparation, transportation, home repair, housecleaning, and help with financial tasks such as paying bills might be hired out if you can afford it, or shared among friends and family. Elder services offered in your community might be another option.
  5. Plan for emergencies. Who would you call in an emergency? Is there someone who can check in on you regularly? What would you do if you fell and couldn't reach the phone? Keep emergency numbers near each phone or on speed dial. Carry a cellphone (preferably with large buttons and a bright screen), or consider investing in some type of personal alarm system.
  6. Write advance care directives. Advance care directives, such as a living will, durable power of attorney for health care, or health care proxy, allow you to explain the type of medical care you want if you're too sick, confused, or injured to voice your wishes. Every adult should have these documents.

To learn more ways to enjoy independence and good health in your senior years, buy A Plan for Successful Aging, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.