In the global sense, aging in place simply means residing in one place for a period of time - at home with your parents as you are growing up, in college housing, in the military, in your first apartment, in your first actual home (or townhome or condo), in a move-up home, and on through as many homes as you live in during your lifetime. Aging in place in its basic sense is staying where you are for a period of time - and hopefully making the best of it.
We think of aging in place as people remaining in their forever or permanent home, and for most of what we talk about in the area of aging in place, this is true. Still, people are aging in place from birth, wherever they are residing at that moment.
The divergence comes when people begin discussing moving from the last home - however long it has been occupied and however well it served the needs of the occupants - into a nursing, retirement, or aging facility. Then the thought advanced is that people age in place from that point. While this technically is true, it is contrary to the basic premise of aging in place successfully.
True aging in place, as we envision it and promote it, is remaining in one's home without needing to move out of it to go anyplace else. Straightforward.
Aging in place has no time limit. It's not for any foreseeable period of time - it is indefinite and presumably and potentially for the remainder of a person's lifetime. The only thing that would prevent this would be an illness or condition so grave that it could not be addressed or treated in the home environment. Otherwise, someone can remain at home and have any care that might be required administered to them in their home.
Therefore, as aging in place professionals, we have a couple of serious challenges that we can act upon. First, we can educate people on how they really can remain living in their homes, safely and independently, without ever needing to move. Second, we need to let people know that we can help them with modifications - minor or more serious - to help this become a reality. Some people as they age are going to remain in relatively good health and require no specific medical attention. Others are going to have various degrees of physical (mobility or sensory) or cognitive limitations or difficulties that will need to be addressed with various home modifications.
After someone leaves their forever home, the mission of aging in place (helping to remain living independently) has passed because now they are either in or one step closer to a dependent environment. While this can fine for those who make this choice, we are concerned with keeping people in their own homes. The whole idea is to make a move unnecessary - for a variety of reasons.
People have a very large emotional attachment and bond with their forever, long-term, or permanent home (depending on how it is referred to). Asking them to give this up can be psychologically traumatic. Then, there is the disposition of their personal property and the home itself. While they may be able to retain some of their possessions, it won't be the same, and it won't be in their home. There also is the financial aspect of making the move and the separation leaving familiar surroundings that they have grown to know and love.
Steve Hoffacker, CAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a licensed Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist-Master Instructor and best-selling author of universal design books. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555. Also, check out the "Aging & Accessibility" groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.