What is aging in place – remaining in one’s home over time? Yes! Pretty simple concept. We just continue living in the homes we already are occupying – even if nothing is done to modify them or enhance them in any way. However, this very simple and straightforward concept has a way of getting complicated by those who would stretch its application.
The essential idea of people remaining in their homes long-term and aging in place has had had various interpretations and iterations. For some people, they would have it mean that people who have been living in their present home for a reasonable period of time but then deciding for various reasons to move on and transition into some type of housing at the first sign of challenges, such as a managed care facility, independent living centers, or living with adult children, are considered to be aging in place in their new quarters. For others, they would have it mean that people moving from their current home by making a conscious choice to leave that home they have been occupying and move into a congregate living arrangement that offers more social and dietary fulfillment than living on their own constitutes aging in place as much as remaining in their current home.
While the term aging in place technically encompasses a person’s current living environment, wherever that is and whatever it may look like – including the very young to the very old and all ages in between – the idea of someone abandoning their long-term homestead to search for a smaller or more updates home, to move into some type of managed care facility, or even to move in with family members, is not in keeping with the concept of aging in place. The hallmark of aging in place is remaining independent in one’s current home.
Where we live for any period of time – from quite short to much longer, and whether we own the place or just live there – is aging in place by definition. It is not, however, what we reference when we discuss aging in place. This means making a commitment – conscious or just allowing it to happen – to remain where we are and not move from it.
Except for a few cases where it is difficult to provide the type of care or supervision that a person might need to have them remain in their home due to extreme cognitive or mobility limitations, most people can live out the balance of their days where they are right now. Our challenge, therefore, is to help them do this safely, comfortably and with as much accessibility as we can provide within the parameters of their current home, the desires and needs of the occupants, and of course, their budget or funding sources we can identify for them.
There is a feeling by many observers, outsiders, and well-wishers (including younger family members of those who are remaining in their present homes with no plans to change that) that most homes simply were never built as “aging in place” homes. This is a curious statement because homes do not provide any type of aging in place criteria, features, or attributes other than some of them are easier to navigate and use than others.
Aging in place as a concept and ideal applies solely to the people doing the living in their homes and not the property or anything else inanimate. While they provide the structure, setting, or framework to allow people to age in place, it’s the people who are doing so. There are no aging in place structures, and there cannot be. Similarly, there cannot be, as much as there are various attempts to do so, any laws or regulations on the provision of aging in place features in a home because they all are individually designed. However, using visitable or universal design can help people live in their present homes more comfortably and safer than otherwise would be the case. Still, notice that the term “aging in place” has not been applied to the design – just visitable or universal design when it is used.
Let’s not be misled or sidetracked into thinking that we can create structures for aging in place. We can modify present homes to accommodate and facilitate aging in place needs, and we can focus on the provision and inclusion of universal design and visitability features. This would be a great use of our abilities. Then, people can remain where they are and not need to incur the disruption, expense, and emotional trauma of leaving their home of many years to start over again – many of them at a very late stage in life.
Aging in place is a very simple concept. People get to continue living where they have been. Usually, there is no need to change this.