What Does “Aging in Place” mean? I was asked this question on a recent interview. My answer went something like this:
“It means enjoying the pleasures of living at home in a familiar environment and community, safely, comfortably, and Inter-Dependently; regardless of age, income, or ability.”
There are some key elements worth un-packing in this definition which I will do here briefly. Let’s start with “familiar environment,” which encompasses the physical aspects of Home. Our dwellings are really containers of a lifetime of cherished objects that delight our senses and support our identity. This may be easily overlooked, but to the older adult who is experiencing loss and change that defines aging (friends, colleagues, roles, physical abilities, meaning), supporting identity is psychologically adaptive.
Older adults will make adaptive choices in an attempt to maintain existing internal and external structures–and they do this by using strategies tied to their past. In Gerontology, the study of aging, this theory of Continunity of Normal Aging, was posited by Robert C. Atchley, Ph.D. and I’ve applied the concept to the experience of aging in place.
The Home can be that stabilizing entity in several ways:
- Self-Identity as a “Home Owner”
- Member of a community
- Home filled with meaningful objects support identity and act as psychological anchors; reinforcing who the person was, who they are now, and who they will become
Next, the concept of living “independently” is really a misnomer and a paradox. If you want to be more independent–you’re going to have to be more “inter-dependent.” Meaning aging in place is a team sport, that is, it happens in the context of supports which are often community of one kind or another. This ties into the “safely” notion as well:
- Informal Network of caregivers (family, friends, church, etc.)
- Basic Transportation
- Affordable Housing
- Increasingly Technology
- Formal Caregivers
Finally, the aspect of “comfortably” covers both physical and mental for the older adult. Home is the place where we are most deeply ourselves and it’s there that we can control access to our most private selves.
The Poet conveys it best:
There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.