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Age with Independence: Insights for Older Adults on Staying Healthy


What does independence mean to seniors? Independence means having the autonomy to make personal decisions and improve one’s quality of life.


Many older adults worry about losing autonomy as they age. Some may need a medical proxy. Some may need to move to an assisted living community. Some may need to have their power of attorney transferred over to a family member. Dr. Maria Ranin-Lay, a board-certified Internal Medicine and Geriatric Medicine specialist at Crystal Run Healthcare, describes the process of aging and discusses how growing older doesn’t necessarily mean losing one’s quality of life.

“One of the misconceptions about growing older is that memory loss is a part of it,” said Dr. Ranin-Lay. “Healthy aging does not include memory loss. Occasional forgetfulness is different than forgetting how to walk five minutes to a place that you have gone more than 100 times. Another misconception would be losing independence. Most patients are afraid to lose their homes or afraid to lose their driving licenses. One can maintain independence by focusing on physical and mental health.”

Physical health

As people age, there are many ways to keep or maintain physical wellness. One of the best ways to stay healthy is to have a consistent exercise routine. Whether it is a 30-minute morning walk or extra Pilates classes at the local gym, having regular exercise helps keep one’s physical independence at its peak. Another way to stay healthy is to eat a balanced diet and adequately hydrate. Fulfilling the body’s need for vitamins and minerals is crucial to its vitality. It is also important to schedule and attend wellness visits and check-ups with a healthcare provider.

“If you feel that your physical health or cognition seems to be deteriorating, or if family members voice their concern about these topics, try your best not to be offended or feel defensive,” said Dr. Ranin-Lay. “Take this as a sign that it is time to discuss these matters with your primary care physician. There are ways that providers can help, whether it’s strengthening your balance and avoiding falls in the home through physical therapy, improving your memory with puzzles and mental games, or helping you utilize support systems in the community. We also work with care managers to help connect you to several government agencies such as Office for the Aging, Meals on Wheels, et cetera to help you foster or keep your independence longer.”

Mental health

Caring for one’s mental health and wellness is also important in retaining autonomy and independence. Discuss with a provider any family history or personal medical history that may increase risk of age-related conditions, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, or depression. A provider may prescribe medication or suggest implementing changes to a patient’s daily life, such as establishing a routine, engaging in new hobbies, or increasing social activities.“Eventually, you may have to rely on a support system such as family, a health aide, or a nurse in order to assist you when your physical health starts to deteriorate,” said Dr. Ranin-Lay. “You will have to keep an open mind as to when to receive and ask for help. Frailty, weight loss, incontinence, and osteoporosis are some common geriatric syndromes that you may have to discuss with your primary care physician or geriatrician.”

Geriatric medicine

Geriatric medicine is a sub-specialty of internal medicine concerned with the health and wellbeing of older adults. Geriatric doctors specialize in diagnosing, managing, and treating diseases and disorders that affect elderly patients.

Geriatricians at Crystal Run Healthcarefocus on conditions specific to aging. Providers offer assessment and rehabilitation, preventive medicine, management of patients in long-term care settings, and psycho-social, ethical, legal, and economic issues pertinent to geriatric patients. They give special attention to situations of special concern, including falls, incontinence, preoperative assessment and postoperative management, cerebrovascular disease, dementia, sensory impairment, and other cognitive and affective changes that occur with aging.

Maria Ranin-Lay, MD, is a primary care physician who is board certified in internal medicine and geriatric medicine at Crystal Run Healthcare. She earned her medical degree at the University of the East in Manila, Philippines. Dr. Ranin-Lay completed both her residency and internship in internal medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Jacobi Medical Center in Bronx, New York. She completed her fellowship in geriatrics at NYU Medical Center in New York. Dr. Ranin-Lay provides care to adult and geriatric patients in the medical office and in nursing homes. She enjoys teaching medical and nurse practitioner students. Dr. Ranin-Lay is currently seeing patients in Monroe, New York.