Most of as we get older come to a realization that the home we are living in – no matter how long that has been or why we selected that particular home – will continue to serve our needs as we get older. Even when that is not entirely true without a few modifications or improvements here and there, staying put is far preferable to the alternative which is looking for someplace else to live and then moving everything we have to that new location. This doesn’t even factor in any type of financial or economic considerations with disposing of our current home, acquiring the next one, and making the move itself.
There is a small but active movement to encourage seniors to forego their current home in favor of something else – to escape aging in place in the home where this has been happening, and can continue to unfold, in favor or starting all over in something different. It’s true for a very small number of people that the costs to renovate an existing home for vertical circulation, relocating a bedroom to the main floor, or finding an accessible entry route into the home may be quite challenging and expensive. Going someplace else that is move-in-ready with none of the challenges that the current home has can make sense for these individuals.
However, moving from a situation that requires modifications into a home that is newer but still requires several modifications is not a good idea. The existing home already has a history with the occupants, so make the modifications there. Why trade one set of shortcomings for another just by moving into something that might be a little newer or more desirable. However, moving to a safer neighborhood would be a consideration outside of these parameters and would be understood.
The true concept of aging in place is that people can remain living in their current home indefinitely – for the duration of their lives, barring any type of serious medical issue or condition, especially cognitive decline, that might require or be more prudent to have them relocated to a managed care facility. The modified concept of this classic approach is that any dwelling that can be moved into and then occupied long-term will comply with the intent of aging in place.
This missing step to this latter approach is that a move must occur first. It is not aging in place without a subsequent action – a move! Granted that in some cases accessibility into a home cannot be achieved easily, inexpensively, or practically. There may be other very restrictive constraints in terms of layout, floor plan, building dimensions, construction methods, and other parameters that make renovations costly or problematic.
Nevertheless, advocating that people look for a seemingly more appropriate place than what they have now to move into and then begin aging in place there – starting the clock over, as it were – is to miss the whole idea of aging in place. The “grass is always greener” concept has no end. After moving out of a home that meets the majority of someone’s needs but has been declared by them to be incapable of remaining in it for reasons that they do not want to be addressed, what is to keep them from reaching the same conclusion on their next home in a few years? And then perhaps even again after that?
Nothing may be perfect, but then does it need to be?
As aging in place specialists, we have the opportunity and the obligation to help people evaluate their current living space and to make recommendations to them on what can be done to make their space safer, more accessible, more comfortable, more convenient, more manageable for them, and more enjoyable. Then, it’s up to them, their adult children, their advisors, caregivers, and anyone else they listen to – but ultimately up to them – as to what renovations or modifications they undertake and have completed for them. There is no obligation here, only prudence.
So, people can remain in their current homes by doing nothing – no papers to file, no statements to complete, no one to notify, and no renovations or modifications required to be completed. Should they choose to make some minor (or in some cases more involved) modifications or changes to the living space, that can be done. It is not required unless the home has been cited by code compliance officers. Otherwise, it’s all elective. Furthermore, there is no time limit on when the work (if it is undertaken or commenced) must be completed, no requirements as to how much or what type of work must be completed (if any), or how much must be spent on it. There are no ominous pronouncements on what will happen if they continue living in their home without making any changes.
It’s quite simple. Aging in place means staying put in one’s home for the duration. Everything else (improvements or modifications, for instance) is voluntary and elective.