What exactly does it mean to “Age in Place”? Ideally, aging in place is leading a healthy and engaging life in your own “home” for as long as one chooses. And “home” should be considered a fluid term. But, if we delve deeper, we’ll discover its meaning becomes situational, conditional, and distinct to each person facing difficult life choices as they grow older and or more dependent on others.
Aging in place has become a broad term bandied about in the senior and long-term care industries for many years. At work, I use the term several times a day and provide guidance to older adults and their families on how to “age in place.” However, for those who have little or no exposure to an aging or disabled loved one struggling to live independently or safely at home, it may be an unfamiliar concept.
One way to help define aging in place, or muddy the waters, depending on how you look at it, is to dispel what it is not:
•It’s not exclusively defined by age. When you retire at 65 you’re not suddenly aging in place. Furthermore, is a healthy 81 year old still working full-time and leading a very active lifestyle aging in place? I wouldn’t necessarily say that he is. Plus, if I claimed he was, he might respectfully disagree, since I’m referring to my father-in-law. Conversely, we could reference a 45 year old female with a traumatic brain injury in which the family is doing everything they can to keep her at home as she becomes more dependent each passing year.
•It also is not defined necessarily by where you live. Someone residing in a place other than their house, such as in a retirement or 55+ community, a personal care home or assisted living, has the opportunity to age in place. Therefore, you can age in place in multiple stages and locations too.
Thoroughly confused yet? Don’t be. You can boil the term down to whether a person has a fundamental deficit or inherent need, that without help may not be able to live independently or safely. These deficits can be quite broad. It could be that because of aging, impairment or disability that person needs some home modifications: a ramp into the house, a bedroom on the first floor, or a walk-in shower rather than a bathtub. A deficit may also be due to a loss, such as the loss of driving privileges or loss of physical or mental capacities. Aging in place manifests itself if you now need assistance coming to your current living situation for the safety, welfare or maintenance of you or your household.
Another way to understand aging in place is to talk about its primary alternative. Typically, this is choosing to move to a retirement community or care facility because it could make life easier or more enjoyable or safer than living in a private residence. Statistically, if we examine the choice of aging in place versus making a move among older adults, the percentage of those who move into a facility for care is less than 15%. Thus, the majority of older adults will be living at home and opt to age in place.
There are a multitude of different services and resources that can help people stay at home and age in place. Family or hired caregivers and/or professional home care are keys to aging in place. Other options include: adult day programs, home modification, and technology such as emergency call systems, telemedicine and even the use of web cams. Additionally, home health care and hospice services, durable medical equipment, outpatient therapy and diagnostic programs bolster the effort of people living safely and healthy at home. Wellness programs, volunteering, community membership groups like Messiah Lifeways Connections, senior centers, and transportation services can help round out a healthy and engaging life in the comfort of your own home.
To learn more about aging in place options available through Messiah Lifeways Community Support Services, call 717.790.8209 or go to MessiahLifeways.org/community-support.