Fortunately for all of us, aging in place is something that we don’t need to qualify for or wait until we are eligible. It means that people (us and our clients) at any age, income level, lifestyle, or physical ability can remain in their homes as long as they like at various stages of their lives but certainly as they get older. 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. Nevertheless, that home does not disqualify someone. Regardless of whether people do anything to enhance their living environment to provide a more enjoyable living experience for themselves, they are still able to age 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 specified by the attainment of any certain chronological age. There is no official designation of a specific age that qualifies someone as “old enough” to begin to aging in place 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, and other ages for other purposes also.
Nevertheless, there is no official point in life when someone reaches an age when we consider that they are eligible to begin aging in place, People don’t say that on their next birthday or in two years they can officially begin to age in place. They just do it. It may not even be a conscious choice. Actually, people age in place 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 or 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.
Aging in place may initially be a mindset – one in which people specifically desire to remain in their present home and to retain their independence and dignity as they grow older. It then needs for 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, rather than a choice that is made, 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.