The senior experience
It’s understandable that many people view aging in place as a destination – as something that they choose when they get close to the end of their working career. They view it as a way of transitioning from their work environment to one more focused on remaining at home and having it serve as their base of operation. Their activities are more focused on what they do at, within, and around their home.
Aging in place certainly involves the seniors, but to say that it is exclusively a senior or retirement experience is to miss out on much of what this strategy affords us.
It is much more than something for people to look forward to doing when they advance to their senior years. It can begin – and actually does – much earlier in life. It begins even before most of us are even aware of it.
Milestones we encountered early in life
Looking back, some of the most important milestones in our life may not be as meaningful to us in later years as they were at the time, but we all have very significant dates in our lives that we anticipated achieving at the time.
As youngsters, we looked forward to starting school, being able to walk to the neighborhood convenience store without supervision, starting youth sports, going out with friends, and similar activities where attainment of a certain age or maturity was required. Eventually, we looked forward to that magic date of turning 16 and getting our learner’s permit and then our official driver’s license – independence!
Along the way, there was registering to vote and casting that first ballot, getting that first job (even if it wasn’t the professional position we ultimately sought), selecting and applying to a college (or more than one), attending college, moving out of the parental home to be on our own, getting that first car, and other events that were quite important and meaningful to us at the time.
Aging in place was going on
Interestingly, we were aging in place during all of those formative and growing years. We just didn’t know or acknowledge it. Our parents took care of most of the details; however, we decorated our bedrooms to match our needs and personalities at the time.
Our parents provided a safe and comfortable environment for us, and we personalized our space to make it even more comfortable and convenient for our needs. This is aging in place without the label attached to it.
As we attain our thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, or beyond, we can look back and recognize how aging in place was going on around us – sometimes with our active participation and sometimes not. We had a safe and accessible living environment – one that we could use effectively even if it wasn’t as large or as luxurious as some of us would have liked at the time.
The point is that we did not have to wait until a much later time in life to begin aging in place. We had no choice. We have been doing it our entire lives – even if we didn’t recognize or acknowledge it.
Aging in place without the labels
Whether we continue working beyond what is typically viewed as retirement age (middle or late sixties), we reinvent ourselves in some other type of pursuit (a new position, a business we start, or volunteer work), or we just enjoy those rewarding years that come at the end of a fruitful working career, we are and have been aging in place all along the way – and will continue to do so.
We don’t have to label what we are doing or the home where we are doing as our aging in place residence, but that doesn’t lessen what we have. All of us are aging in place and have been for as far back as we can remember (and obviously earlier than that). It wasn’t always part of our consciousness. It still may not be something we think about or focus on, but we are aging in place in or at our homes as we continue life’s journey.
More to come
All of us still have many more positive milestones coming our way – the birth of grandchildren, marriage of our children, graduations, retirement, cruises, writing that novel that has eluded us, finally cleaning out some of our stuff, paying off the mortgage. taking that trip that we have put off, and so many other events that we have been anticipating but haven’t seen happen yet.
These factor into our aging in place as well because they are life experiences that help shape and define us and give meaning to the spaces around us. Aging in place is a journey and a way of relating to that journey rather than an accomplishment that happens.