What is Aging in Place? - dummies

By Carol Levine, AARP

The common desire to stay in the same home is often called “aging in place.” This is a term most often used by professionals and policymakers, although not by older adults themselves. It may be misunderstood as being unable to leave your home or having other negative implications. When people say they want to stay at home, they often are thinking not only of their physical home but also their familiar surroundings.

When you think of staying in your home, think, too, of your community. In fact, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a broad and complicated definition of aging in place: “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.” This definition adds conditions to the circumstances under which aging in place should occur. The person has to meet all three conditions: be safe, comfortable, and able to live independently. Living independently may mean living alone without any outside help, or it may mean living alone only if outside help is available. The critical element is being able to choose what you do and when you do it.

Sometimes these conditions conflict. The home may be quite comfortable but not safe. Or the home may be safe, but only with help. Or all those conditions may be met, but you or your parents don’t have enough income or assets to support the arrangement.

The CDC’s definition also includes living in your community. This adds another layer of complexity. What exactly is a community? What if the home is safe but the neighborhood is not? What if the person doesn’t have a community of people nearby who are able to help as needed? Living alone shouldn’t mean living in isolation. What seems to be a straightforward definition turns out to be complicated. You can do a lot to make sure all these elements are in place, but some things are beyond any individual’s control.