As aging in place specialists, it’s our role and duty to focus on one of two different approaches – and often to blend the two of them. The first is to look at the home itself. What is its physical condition of the structure, its age, and its characteristics? Does it allow easy access or restrict it? How easy or relatively inexpensive is it to make basic improvements to the home that will facilitate more access and greater mobility in the home? What about the electric service, the number and location of rooms (especially bathrooms), the amount of lighting, the flooring, the windows, the ceiling heights, the doorway widths, and other physical characteristics of the home?
Often, we focus on the needs of the individual, but before we get to that, the home needs to be considered. Just how receptive is the home itself to having people remain in it over the long-term? Can it easily accommodate people as they age, or is it too restrictive in terms of where rooms are located within the home and how someone gets from one location to another (flow and spatial relationships), the room sizes and what activities the space allows, and the general safety afforded in getting about within the home and using the space that is included within the home? In other words, is the space going to be friendly or adversarial? Is it going to fight with the occupants or be friendly as they age and remain in place?
Then we get to the occupants themselves. What needs do they have as they age and remain living in the home – mobility (arthritis or other conditions that affect the way they move and get around), range of motion and reach (for using cabinets, closets, showers, controls, and other features in the home), vision impairment (visual acuity, color and depth perception, and diseases of the eye that limit vision), hearing changes, and many conditions that result from progressive illnesses and diseases? Can people function as they have been or do their homes need to be adapted to adjust to their changing needs and abilities?
Often when people find and select a home (at whatever age in life that might be) and then decide that they want to remain living in it over time as their forever or permanent home, they are aware of what it provides for them and how it might need to be modified to continue to accommodate them. In many cases, the home will work for them for what they already are experiencing or for normal aging concerns. A traumatic condition might suggest other changes that had not be contemplated, but then how could they be without knowing what might happen?
But what about those people who are more passive about aging in place? They have never admitted to themselves that they are remaining in place, but they have no plans to move either. Their homes are not the most ideal for them, but they are coping with what they have. They may not even understand how their homes are not measuring up to their needs. Also, there could be an income issue of not having enough money to fund improvements that would make their lives easier, safer, and better. It could be pride in not wanting to admit that they are getting older and that they need help. It also could be that they are dealing with changes in their abilities the best they can and have never really considered that their home could be improved or how to approach it.
When people are just getting by rather than taking a more active role in adapting their homes to their changing needs or the limitations their homes present, they still are aging in place. We’d like to help them be more successful in their homes, bit aging in place does not connote any type of qualitative approach to living in one’s home.