There is a lot of discussion today about aging in place – what it means, how to do it, who is best suited for it, resources that are available in the community, and other topics that may or may not be pertinent to the issues at hand.
Fundamentally, aging in place involves people staying in their homes – their current homes. It does not ask them to move in with family members although this is an acceptable strategy for aging well. Nevertheless, it is not aging in place, the concept. Similarly, purchasing a different home to occupy or moving into a rental apartment is not in keeping with the idea of aging in place although once people move into their new quarters they can age in place there, and presumably this would be their last move.
Moving into a nursing home, assisted living facility, memory care, or other type or congregate or managed care facility – even with an independent living component – is not the same as aging in place either. It’s transferring from the current home to someplace else so the “rules” have been broken because the current home is no longer the dwelling of choice.
Moving in with family, changing to a smaller home or one that is more compact or offers a better layout, choosing one that offers recreational amenities, or occupying one that offers some level of care and services (even if those are not required or desired at the present time) are an acceptable way of dealing with getting older that may be right for some people. Bear in mind that none of these solutions, while potentially beneficial for the people doing them, or for their families, is aging in the place in the definitive sense of remaining in one’s current home.
Why is remaining in one’s current home so important? Several reasons.
For one, people have a routine. They can adapt to a new one perhaps, but they are totally familiar with their current home and neighborhood – to the point that they could get up in the middle of the night (along as the pathway was clear) and walk to any place in their home without the aid of any type of light. They know their neighbors, who drives which car, who the dogs belong to and which ones they get along with well, what time they get their mail, how far they can take a walk away from their home and how long it generally takes them to do it, and many other aspects of living in their present home that makes them creatures of habit.
Moving anyplace else, while possibly exciting initially, would mean learning all of this over again – not impossible certainly, but largely unnecessary because they can stay where they are.
For another, there is a huge economic benefit. The current home likely is paid off or nearly so. Any improvements or modifications (including just upgrading colors and finishes), therefore, can be financed as a tradeoff from what acquisition of a new home, the move, and new mortgage might be. A new home is not going to have the same intrinsic value as the present one, meaning that the current home cannot be replaced for the money in the home. Taxes, association dues, and other fees likely will be higher than they are for the current home.
An additional factor is the number of items (“stuff”) that people have retained over the years – some still useable, some waiting for styles to change, some vivid reminders of the past, and others capable of being discarded or donated. Still, it’s the lengthy process of deciding the disposition of all the items, or just the acceptance that they remain as they are – in place also.
Yet another factor is emotion. After several years of living in one place, there is a sense of separation and a real emotional trauma that associates with moving. The older we are in life, and the longer we have lived where we are, the stronger the attachment to the current home.
Aging in place is staying in one’s home and leaving it as it is, performing some minimal maintenance, installing new items here and there, or making major modifications to accommodate the physical and sensory needs of the occupants. There is no single approach that applies. Each person and each home is different.
Regardless, aging in place has nothing to do with how many homes may or not be available for people (especially empty nesters and seniors) to move into or how affordable they may or may not be because we are not talking about people moving or acquiring another home at all. It’s either aging in place in the current home, or it’s moving and then aging (in place) from that point. The whole idea or aging in place, by definition, is that people do not need to move from their current homes. Can they? Of course. Should they? For the most part, no.