While aging in place is a strategy for helping people throughout their lifetimes to remain safe and viable in their homes, it is not confined to just the seniors nor to the living space within the walls of their home. To focus just on the interior is to miss the larger picture.
To be sure, safety, accessibility, visitability, security, comfort, and convenience all are vital and co-equal parts of our overall focus for analyzing and creating effective aging in place solutions, but there should be more to our approach.
People have to be safe on their property – in or on their yards, driveways, garages, carports, patios, porches, and sidewalks.
Getting from the street to the front door – or the reverse, going from the home to the street – needs to afford easy, safe, and comfortable access. The footing needs to be sound. Broken concrete, uneven surfaces, missing material, weeds and grass interrupting the pavement, rocks or other debris such as sand, gravel, twigs and leaves, and encroaching bushes and flowers can all impact the safety and movement on and along walkways.
Homes that have severe elevation changes from the home to the street present many issues – some not easy or inexpensive to solve. People need to be able to leave their homes to be in their yard – for exercise, light yardwork and maintenance, and fresh air and sunshine. The challenge for many homes is creating a reverse type of visitability where the occupants can comfortably move from the front door (or back or side door) out into their yards and beyond without encountering obstacles. Uneven sidewalks or paths complicate moving from the home to street or from the street to the home. While it may seem to be obvious what needs to be done to solve these issues, it may not be simple or inexpensive to accomplish.
When people want to leave the confines of their home and go into their neighborhood if just one or two houses from theirs – even if they depend upon a walker or wheelchair – they need to find safe pathways and footing. When people are able to encounter and interact with their neighbors, it keeps them better grounded and happier.
Some people like to work on their collections or on woodworking or repair projects in their garage, basement, or shed. While some of these areas may technically be part of the dwelling, many people must go to another structure for them. Either way, it is a destination away from the normal living space, and they need to have safe footing, good lighting, and general safety as they move about their property.
For those so inclined, leaving home to walk, jog, walk their dog, ride a bike, rollerblade, or ice skate in the winter, gets them outdoors and away from home. Even raking or bagging leaves is an outdoor activity that is done in the yard but outside of the home. Putting the trash or recycling out for collection is an activity that is done outside – whether on the driveway or at the street.
Some people may have a pool, hot tub, or spa on their patio, deck, or in the backyard. This is certainly an out-of-the-home pursuit.
There are many activities that people do – or need to be able to conduct – that are outside the four walls of their main living area but still on their property. It is up to us as aging in place professionals to help them do this in the safest way possible. Aging in place strategies and treatments involve both an indoor and outside focus around someone’s living space and definitely include more than just indoor pursuits.