While some people talk about extending the aging in place idea or concept to a wider area outside the home – the office, community center, library, shopping centers, supermarkets, or other public areas beyond the dwelling – aging in place is totally as a residential strategy. Having other venues be comfortable and adaptable for people to serve their needs as they age is commendable and desirable, but it cannot be labeled aging in place – because it isn’t.
Aging in place means that people get to remain living safely, independently, and comfortably in their current homes. This is the only place it occurs – as much as we might like for facilities outside the home to be accommodating and desirable.
To extend the aging in place concept to areas outside the home, such a concept would necessarily need to begin with the recognition that such areas need to appeal to people of various abilities and those who may have mobility, cognitive, or sensory impairments or limitations. Because a variety of people visit public places, there is no way that any facility – no matter how much it might want to or claim that it does – can address the specific needs of each individual. In this way, it cannot truly be thought of as aging in place.
As we know, people have a variety of aging issues, with some having few medical or physical concerns and some living with various progressive conditions that essentially mandate corrective action to the residence. This means that our work as aging in place professionals is equipping the homes of people to serve them well so they can live effectively in them. We are not charged with going into public places and making them adaptable for specific needs because that is impractical. A given person might visit a facility once or twice, never, or frequently. There is no way to tell, just as there is no way to gauge in advance what types of needs should be accommodated.
We could help public arenas to be accessible and usable by having universal design elements that would allow the broadest number of people to enter them and navigate them rather easily, but this would only accommodate a portion of the population. Unlike outfitting a specific residence with what is required to meet the needs of the people living there, public accommodations can only be presented in a broad sense. Then, there is the issue of who pays for these improvements and what type of priority they have for a public or non-profit organization’s budget.
We have plenty to do as professional to meet with potential clients, evaluate their physical needs and requirements, consider the constraints and parameters of their home in allowing us to make modifications for them, determine a budget (and possible funding sources if needed to supplement what they can invest), be sensitive to how their needs may change over time, involve other professionals to consult with us to devise an effective plan, and to execute it to make successful aging in place a reality for them.
This important work on a case-by-case basis for each individual home that needs to provide better function for its occupants that it does at present. This is where we need to invest our time and energy.