Many things in life come at us without preparation or the ability to study for it in advance. We don’t get the chance to get ready and therefore have to deal with things as they come our way.
One notable exception to this premise is the rite of passage that happens at age sixteen when all of us across the country are eligible to get a license to drive a car. We can earn a learner’s permit a little sooner, and some people wait until later to get their license, but sixteen is the magic number. Still, no one shows up at the examination bureau having never been behind the wheel of a car before or not knowing the basic rules of the road. There is no way to pass the test without this knowledge.
We get the booklet on the rules of the road to study prior to showing up for the test – either a printed copy or an online version. We read it, study it, try to memorize it, and have our friends or family members test us on the information. We don’t have time to fail the written test, nor do we wish to risk the embarrassment of doing so. We need that driver’s license.
The rules can and do vary a little between states, so a license obtained in one state might be based on a little different criteria than in another one, but essentially, the rules of the road are uniform across the land.
However, the point is that for this critical life-changing event, one that will define our lives and our independence for decades, we know what is expected of us in advance. We know the rules – or should know them. When the policeman stops us for an infraction, we can’t claim ignorance of the rule as a legitimate defense.
Contrast this knowledge and the ability for advance preparation with getting married, applying for and starting a professional position, having children and raising them, or aging in place. When we apply for college admission, we get the catalogs of the schools we are interested in attending or visit their websites. We know what they are looking for, what the entrance requirements are, and when we write our admissions essay we try to appeal to what we think they are looking for in an applicant and what will garner us favorable consideration. This is another notable exception to life’s rules.
Other than obtaining driver’s licenses, completing employment applications, and applying for college admission, we generally don’t know what is expected of us in advance, how we are going to be evaluated for our performance, or how we can get an inside track on success.
This is what makes aging in place tricky for many people. How do we choose an appropriate home? Or have we already without necessarily realizing it? How do we keep going even if we have physical or sensory issues that compromise our ability to use or homes the way we intend?
These are great questions, and we are not going to find the answers spelled out for us on Wikipedia, Google, or any other likely source that we might decide to check. There are no books on the subject. Like first-time parenting, we are on our own. We don’t have many authoritative figures that can even talk to us about the subject – parents, coaches, teachers, or clergy.
Aging in place is clearly an experience that we have to encounter and live to appreciate. We can take visual clues from loved ones that we see living in their homes, but since this happens years before we actually live it ourselves, there is no direct application. This doesn’t mean that we are totally unprepared. It does mean that we may not be sure what to expect or what is coming our way until it happens to us.
Because we know as practitioners in the field that aging in place is an individual event that we approach one-at-a-time according to the needs and requirements of the individual and their particular living space, there is nothing widespread that can be done to prepare for it. We know that it is coming but sometimes it arrives very quietly and quickly – without notice.
Yesterday, we weren’t even thinking of staying in our homes long-term perhaps, but now, here we are. We are attempting to make the best of it. With these challenges that people face in mind, we endeavor to help them adapt to their changing needs, life’s circumstances, and the process of aging. There are no instruction manuals, but we are the next best thing. We are, in a way, interpreters of this phenomenon for them.