While aging in place is often associated with seniors and in helping those of advancing years remain living independently in their homes, everyone deserves to live in a safe environment across all age groups and abilities. This re-frames the paradigm about providing for aging.
It’s not just for addressing the needs of older individuals, although that certainly is important, but for helping people at various stages of their lives to enjoy a quality lifestyle wherever they are living at the time. It is more about living well than in addressing the specific needs of being older.
All of us are getting older from whatever age we are and no matter where we are living – from being a child in our parents’ home, leaving that nest and striking out on our own, starting our own family, maintaining an empty nest, or anyplace else along the continuum.
Some people through life with few health or physical limitations that restrict or encumber their activity, and others have progressive or traumatic conditions to deal with that mean that their homes and apartments aren’t as well suited for accommodating their needs without various changes being made.
Life is a journey, and as part of that journey we have multiple opportunities to live in various settings – sometimes on our own and sometimes with others. The challenge is to have those living environments be as safe, comfortable, and accessible as possible for us – regardless of our physical size, ability, or age at the time.
Even if we were to limit our discussion of aging in place as something that applies primarily to seniors, a person doesn’t just become a senior without having lived the previous years of their life. While someone might be considered a “senior” at age 50 by some people, others would note it at age 55, 60, 62, 65, 70, or some other age. With people generally living longer, the age at which someone is regarded as a senior may continue to move upward.
The point of this morning’s program (and in our on-going effort) is that all homes need to be able to provide a safe living environment for people regardless of their age, ability, and physical requirements, and whether they are owning, renting, or living with someone else. That is our challenge as aging in place professionals – recognizing that we are not working with a finite group of people but with people in general throughout their lifetimes.
Universal design is a foundational strategy and concept that helps us achieve our objective of creating successful and functional living environments across the spectrum of ages and abilities. Visitablity is a subset of universal design that also helps us accomplish our intent.
Instead of focusing just on creating effective dwellings for people that we consider to be seniors – a conventional definition of aging in place – we need to begin looking at and making strategic changes to living spaces at a much earlier age for people. We should be promoting the principles of safe living and helping to create them across all age groups and needs rather than waiting until a later period of life.
This is aging in place in the grander, more inclusive sense.