Among the discussion on what aging in place is all about and what it takes to accomplish as well as accommodate it, a frequent topic is how the community at large is providing for and accommodating people as they get older. This would be the city or neighborhood where seniors, primarily, are living as they age. This is fine, but it has nothing to do with aging in place and everything to do with allowing people to age well in their surroundings.
By definition, as well as concept, aging in place can only happen inside someone’s home. It does not extend beyond their property. It does not go anywhere away from where someone lives. Accessibility, safety, reach, range or motion, comfort, convenience, safety, livability, enjoyment, and similar quality of life factors that’s exist within someone’s home are what we are concerned about when we speak of aging in place.
People, regardless of their ability (impaired hearing or eyesight notwithstanding), their strength, their mobility challenges (including their ability to use their limbs and whether assistive devices are necessary), and any type of chronic or progressive condition, need to function well within their chosen dwelling. To the extent that they are having difficulties, and to the extent that they allow us to assist them in alleviating these issues, they can age in place more successfully than if we did not get involved with them.
Aging in place is strictly about letting people continue to live in the homes they have selected (consciously or through inaction) as their long-term, forever residences. They can be a rental property, but mostly we are talking about owner-occupied dwellings.
We want people to be as safe as possible in their permanent homes and to enjoy life on their terms as they live within familiar surroundings. Not everyone who ages in place chooses to make renovations or repairs to accommodate their own aging or the aging of their home and the inability of their dwelling to keep pace with their physical needs or demands. It might just be a case of older-style and harder-to-operate windows or doors or an electrical system that can’t power everything as well as they would like or need. It could be steps into the home that restrict or make access more difficult than it has been. There could be many features that are characteristic of their home that aren’t working as well for them now than was the case just a few years ago.
When it comes to recognizing characteristics of someone’s home that interfere with or hinder their ability to use that home as well as they would like, we have the ability to make those adjustments – but only to the extent that they are willing to have those changes made, that they are willing to allow us to help them, and that they have the budget to do so. Short of this, many people are going to age in place without making the improvements that really would enhance their lifestyle as they remain in their homes. This, however, is actually a benefit of staying in their home because it is so familiar to them and they are used to it, they know how to navigate it (even to the point of being able to do so safely in the dark), and they are able to adapt to any weaknesses or shortcomings their home presents to them.
Now, as far as the community where people live, it is great for it to be accommodating. Safe sidewalks that are maintained and lighted after dark, leash laws that are enforced so no one fears being challenged by a loose dog, buses or other forms of transportation that are available to take them to major areas (such as, downtown, shopping areas, doctors, arenas, libraries, parks, and the airport), and places that are safe for them to gather such as senior citizen or neighborhood centers.
It’s nice for people, especially seniors, to feel at ease when they leave their homes and venture out into the community for recreation, to visit friends or neighbors, to attend events, to go shopping, or to keep appointments. When the areas they are visiting are designed to be accessible for them, regardless of any limitations they might have, they are able to enjoy more of life than just what they experience at home. Nevertheless, having facilities outside the home that are safe, accessible, and user-friendly is a great big-picture design help, but it is not done for aging in place purposes (because it is outside the home) but for the general enjoyment and use of everyone, including seniors.
We want people, of any age and especially the older individuals, to be able to enjoy their neighborhoods and community at large, but these areas cannot address specific issues that people might have in order to accommodate each person. That is the role of their home and aging in place.