Aging in place means that clients (at any age or physical requirement) don’t need to move from their homes in order to accommodate their changing needs. It means that whatever home people are living in now can be theirs to occupy for as long as they desire.
Ideally, the home that people are occupying long-term would safe, comfortable, and accessible for them, but that may not be the case. Regardless of whether people do anything to enhance their living environment or to provide a more enjoyable living experience for themselves, they still are aging in place.
People are aging in place throughout their lifetime – wherever they are living at any moment in time. The challenge is to help them do it well. At those times when they are not in charge (living with their parents at a young age or living in a dormitory, for instance), we can still help them to make those accommodations as safe and as enjoyable as possible.
Aging in place is not something that is driven by the attainment of any certain age on one’s birthday odometer. There is no official designation of an age that qualifies someone as “old,” although there are many age thresholds for being considered a senior – 50 for AARP, 55 for many restaurants and other retailers, 60 for other retailers and barber shops, 62 to begin receiving social security, 65 for the traditional retirement age and medicare eligibility, 66 or 67 as the new retirement age for full social security benefits, and other ages for other purposes also.
Nevertheless, there is no official age at which someone becomes “old” by definition. While we age-in-place, this occurs gradually and over an entire lifetime – at various stages and for various time periods along the way. Our challenge as aging in place professionals is to help people adapt to their surroundings at those various stages of life where they may find themselves.
Since aging-in-place is not age- or event-driven – although the attainment of a certain age may cause someone to suddenly feel older and a health episode or accident can cause the aging or recovery process to become more apparent – we often look to solutions such as universal design and visitability to enact healthy and safe treatments for people before there are specific needs.
Elimination of clutter and freeing a home of unnecessary belongings is a great strategy but one that is often met with a great resistance and reluctance. We know the importance of emptying out a home – for safety and accessibility reasons, among others – but the emotional bonds that exist between people and what they are amassed, collected, and stored over the years are not that easy to break.
Aging in place may initially be a mindset – one in which people specifically desire to remain and retain their independence and dignity as they grow older. It then needs their home to cooperate with them and enable them to have the comfort, convenience, safety, and accessibility they require and desire to maintain a healthy and effective lifestyle in that home they have selected.
Aging in place may also be something that just happens to people. They awake one day and realize that they haven’t planned for it, but they have been living in their home for several years and likely will remain in it. Aging in place just crept up on them.
Regardless of how it happens that people find themselves living in their forever home, we need to help ensure that it can help them prepare effectively for life events and happenings while remaining grounded in familiar surroundings.