What Does Aging in Place Mean for Older Adults?

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Aging in your own home. Jasper Cole/Blend Images/Getty Images

Aging in place is a term that refers to making changes in the home and identifying supports to allow seniors to live safely, independently and in a familiar environment for as long as possible. The primary concept behind aging in place is to look at limitations that people typically have while aging, and modify the home environment to minimize the impact of these limitations.

While some older adults will require more involved care that only an assisted living facility can provide, organizations like the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) have found that the vast majority of men and women will prefer to stay in their own home provided they can do so comfortably and with minimal danger.

 Minor home renovations can help seniors avoid a potentially disastrous fall, and identifying specialized in-home care can delay the need to move to a nursing home.

​Here are some of the structural modifications that might be required to enable "aging in place":

  • Better lighting to illuminate doorways, walkways and steps. Motion-sensor switches can ensure that the lights go on when a senior enters the room, and relocation of switches to areas that are easy to reach
  • Widened doorways to accommodate a walker, wheelchair or other assistive device
  • A ramp as an alternative to stairway, especially at entryways of the home 
  • A chairlift that allows moving from one floor to another without using the stairs
  • Handlebars in shower stall or near bathtub
  • Safety frame to provide support and stability when using the toilet
  • Simple devices such as phones with larger keypads and better volume control

How to fall-proof your home

Here are some of the support and care personnel that may help an older person function independently in their home:

  • Bathing care. If you're in danger of falling in the tub or shower, you may need help with personal hygiene
  • Medication administration.  Proper timing of many regular prescriptions is crucial to their effectiveness.  If forgetting to take medication is a concern, or taking an improper dose, having a home-care nurse or aide could keep you on track
  • Occupational therapy.  Older adults who are fearful of falling may avoid moving around their own home, or may develop a shuffling gait.  Occupational or physical therapy can help you avoid muscle loss (sarcopenia), and improve balance and coordination in order to keep you physically strong and mobile.
  • Grocery delivery.  Simply having fresh food delivered directly to your home can help you meet your nutritional needs
  • Specialized instruction such as swallowing advice for stroke patients to reduce the risk of choking
  • A regular caregiver may provide assistance with daily tasks, as well as offer companionship to keep a senior engaged and cognitively proficient

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If your current home cannot easily be adapted for your changing needs, you might still be able to live independently in the community by moving to a smaller house, apartment, or seniors' complex located closer to amenities like a grocery store, pharmacy, and public transit.

From a government perspective, economic constraints are pushing more health-care providers and social services agencies to invest in home-care options rather than placement in costly long-term residences.

 Not only is staying in your own house usually much less expensive, it can also help you delay or avoid the emotional stress of moving away from familiar territory.

Still - aging in place may not work forever.  A 2011 review of challenges facing older adults in their own homes found that simple issues such as house maintenance and cleaning can present major challenges. If proper nutrition begins to suffer, or your medication needs are not being met, talk to your health-care provider and family members to see which options for higher-level care are best for you.

For more information on aging in place, see these resources:


Cara Bailey Fausset, Andrew J. Kelly, Wendy A. Rogers, and Arthur D. Fisk. "Challenges to Aging in Place: Understanding Home Maintenance Difficulties." J Hous Elderly. 2011 Spring; 25(2): 125–141.

Thinking About Aging in Place. Government of Canada Public Information Sheet. Accessed June 18, 2015.

Wiles JL, Leibing A, Guberman N, Reeve J, Allen RE. "The Meaning of "Aging in Place" to Older People." Gerontologist. 2012 Jun;52(3):357-66. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnr098

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