Make no mistake. Aging in place is not an event that suddenly occurs when we attain a certain age, and it is not a result of any traumatic event or serious illness either. We don’t wake up on our fortieth, fiftieth, or sixty-fifth birthday with the sudden realization that in addition to being numerically a year older than we were when we went to bed that we now are part of the large segment of the population that is labeled as aging in place.
In fact, aging in place is a life-long pursuit that begins at birth and continues. Some people are more aware of it (because they have more challenges to deal with or they just embrace it) and some people live in denial most of their lives. Attitude has a lot to do with how successful people are as they age in place – regardless of their age, height, stature, weight, physical ability, strength, educational level, sensory perception, or cognition. On the whole, aging in place happens more subconsciously or unconsciously than it does through a conscious approach to it. Most people are totally unaware of it.
Earlier in life – as children living with our parents – we don’t have a lot of say in how we age in place. Our parents provide a safe and comfortable living environment for us. We have some input on decor, layout, and use of our space, but mostly there aren’t any major accessibility issues. The other side of this equation is that parents have a major responsibility to see that they are providing for their children effectively – and for themselves, and this is where we can have a major impact and contribution.
As we continue through life, we will have several other residences – dormitories, barracks, apartments, and homes – some on our own, some with roommates perhaps, and some with partners or families. Some of those are going to be more accessible than others and likely were not chosen solely on the basis of how easy they were to enter or move around in them (perhaps only given minimal consideration, in fact) but on their location or monthly payments. Parking, onsite or neighborhood amenities, and interior features likely factored in, but price and location likely led the list of priorities when it came to a decision.
Certainly, dwellings that we selected and occupied on our timeline continuum throughout life could have been evaluated and chosen for more practical reasons than what we likely employed. Cabinet height, flooring, lighting, ease of using bathroom fixtures and navigating the bath, types of door and cabinet hardware, ease of opening and closing the windows, and getting around in and using the kitchen safely could have been considered but likely were observed as a package or only given a minimal review if the basic location, price, and general livability seemed OK.
At one time we may have been able to bound up and down stairs – even two or three at a time. Seeing objects in dimly lit areas were not a major concern, Even standing precariously on a chair to reach items slightly out of our normal reach was not something we dismissed. Some of us have had mobility or sensory issues throughout life that have caused us to be a little more cautious or limited in our activities or to choose a living space that could accommodate what we needed. Others have taken what has come along without a lot of fuss or consideration as long as the location, monthly payment, and general features were acceptable.
We all are aging in place and have been our entire lives, whether we have given it much thought or consideration or not. Some people have embraced the idea of making their homes more serviceable and friendly for them while others are just taking life as it comes. We have the ability to help anyone, but those who are not recognizing any issues or concerns will be more difficult to approach and serve – not impossible just less open to a direct approach. This is where universal design or visitability become important because people are willing and ready to recognize that people coming into their home (other than themselves) may have issues that can be addressed proactively or preemptively to be ready for them when they are present.
There just is no magic age when people need to be embracing safety and accessibility improvements in their homes, so they should start as early in life as possible (once they are in a place or their own and even if that is not their long-term home) soon as they can and allow us to help them design solutions that will grow with them and keep their homes functional as they get older – especially when they have selected a home that they want to be their permanent one.