There is a constant flow of articles and news stories about the aging of the population, the needs of seniors (regardless of what country the might reside in), universal design, and aging in place – all with good reason. These are topics that are on the minds of so many people around the world. They might be seniors themselves, they might be close to traditional retirement age, they might have parents of an advanced age, or they just might be thinking ahead to when they or their parents reach the age group we call seniors.
So why an aging in place emphasis, and why now? Good questions.
Aging in place is nothing new, although the term and the focus certainly is. Back in the 1950s and even earlier, extended families were quite common. People had multiple generations living in the same home so it was easier for younger ones in the family to look out for and monitor the needs of the more elderly in the home. Then this largely changed with the moves to suburbia and much more active lifestyles when people didn’t seem to spend as much time at home.
For a few decades beginning in the 1960s, people were moving on average every five years, meaning that 20% of the population was moving every year. This did not create much time for people to be concerned about developing a long-term relationship with your living environment.
Of course, not everyone moved that often – that was the average – but it illustrates how mobile we were and how easy it was to buy and sell property.
Over time, as it began to get more expensive for people to replace what they had in their home and the neighborhood they lived in and move to another location (as much as they might have really like to have done that), as people had more ties to their current neighborhood (including church, school, youth activities, and civic groups), as they acquired more and more stuff that made even the prospects of packing up and moving all of it a little more daunting, and as they began to realize that their current home really was something they enjoyed, their wanderlust subsided.
People still purchase new homes (new construction or existing homes in other neighborhoods), they still move to other cities and locations, and they still have many reasons for wanting a different home (including the quality of the investment and opportunities for appreciation). However, as prices have increased before and after the recent downturn, which saw many people losing equity in their homes or finding themselves underwater, many people have turned to remodeling as a way of improving, modernizing, and otherwise accommodating the current and future needs rather than electing to purchase a different home.
This is where the real emphasis on aging-in-place began.
When people have a home that is relatively comfortable, in a location they like, that meets most of their needs, why is it necessary to exchange that for something else that may or may not meet their needs as well? Many people, especially those who had moved a few times already in their lifetimes, reached the decision – consciously or not – that they didn’t really need to move again. Whatever their present home lacked could be dealt with by just accepting its shortcomings, or (as we hope) by making modifications and improvements to make it serviceable for years to come.
This is what aging-in-place is all about – remaining in the home that people identify – either consciously or not – as being the one that is comfortable for their needs or the one they like living in. In many cases, there is a real enjoyment in remaining in the home they have now. In other cases, they simply haven’t considered moving to anything else even though their present home could stand to have a few improvements to make it more ideal for the next few years.
The point is that moving isn’t always the answer. For our purposes as aging-in-place providers, we are happy when people realize that they don’t have to move or shouldn’t choose another home because they can remain where they are and continue living in a home that meets their needs (entirely or mostly) or can with some modifications and improvements.