Keep it in the home
There have been numerous articles published that discuss existing or potential aging in place housing, aging in place neighborhoods, and aging in place communities. There also are articles discussing creating or providing these types of opportunities. These suggestions seem to be a stretch of the basic aging in place concept and a general miss of the essential idea.
Aging in place is individual. Therefore, it involves a person’s home. It centers on their residence of choice. While there are strategies that work well for people of varying abilities and needs, such as universal design and visitability, aging in place first means the physical act of residing in the same place over an indefinite period of time – such as the rest of one’s life.
It begins where we are
Aging in place cannot be mandated or forced. Just labeling something as an aging in place dwelling or telling people that this is where they need to spend the rest of their lives is wrong in so many ways because it excludes free will and personal desires. Additionally, people should not be required to move in order to age in place.
Aging in place begins where a person is already. No new buildings are required. No communities or neighborhoods need to be created. In fact, this is the opposite of aging in place. This is asking someone to move from where there are to a place that supposedly is more suited to their ongoing lifestyle and aging. While there could be some benefit in this choice for some people, this is not aging in place. This is aging in a new place.
The concept of aging in place is that someone continues to live in the home they have been occupying – that they chose months, years, or even decades ago – and they make the most of that experience. Sometimes modifications are required to update that home, sometimes little updates and maintenance issues will be addressed along the way, and sometimes people just accept what they have and keep going.
The grass is always greener
If we look hard enough, most of us could probably find something about our current homes that we would like to change or a different layout that we feel would be nice to have. The good news is that unless we are talking about major structural changes, those updates are doable – even more significant changes if we have the time, budget, and lot size to accommodate them.
Rather than looking to a newer home or a different neighborhood to move into, our time, energies, and effort might be spent more efficiently in addressing shortcomings in our current home. We are familiar with what we have, we largely like it (or presumably we would have moved or done something else about it earlier), and it can continue providing for our needs unless there are major safety defects or flaws in how we use our homes.
This is a case of the grass being greener on the other side by considering how nice it might be to have a brand new home and setting to occupy, but then, there would be such an adjustment and learning curve involved. Rather than continuing to age in place where we are and making whatever adjustments we feel would be beneficial, we would be starting over someplace else.
Aging in place is personal
As we have stated many times, aging in place is personal. It revolves around the individual and their needs. Therefore, one cannot create an aging in place neighborhood or home without knowing how someone will use that home, what their physical requirements are, and how those needs are likely to evolve in the coming months or years.
Creating a visitable layout or one with as many universal design features as possible would be a good start, but it still comes down to the individual and how they are going to relate to their space. The space needs to match the needs of the individual and not the individual conform to the parameters of their home.
Aging in place renovations are made after we see how a person uses their home and what is required to improve their safety, overall function, and comfort in their home – not before. We really can’t know in advance how someone will use their home or how their abilities and needs might change, but we can avoid including obvious challenges such as switches, handles, controls, and other aspects of the home that are difficult for many people to use well.
People will adapt to their space, and we can help adapt or modify their space to their needs after we determine what those are.