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Aging in Place – What goes around comes around again (and again)

Long ago 'aging in place' terminology emerged with a different meaning.  Forgotten now, it was briefly in Wikipedia to define the benefit of a continuing care retirement community where you did not have to leave the community if you required higher levels of care.  And the term wandered over briefly to assisted living.  But it eventually stuck as remaining in your own home through thick and thin. And in 2013, it was promoted on the book circuit by former HUD director, Henry Cisneros, about his 87-year-old mother – they were both insistent that she ‘age in place.’  Which she did, until she died after a fall, isolated in her huge house after all her neighbors had died or moved away. 

The arbitrariness of the term was crazy.  Aging in place, no matter what shape you are in, or whether you might be happier surrounded by other people. The term led to some interesting debate from experts like Stephen Golant and his book about Aging in the Right Place, which offered thoughtful arguments about the types of communities that would be evolving in the future, that many older adults would sell their home and move to rental communities and homes that would match their capabilities and deal with their issues – like 'isolation, chronic illness, disability, financial stress, and simple frailty.'   

Today, the term 'aging in place' has again been bludgeoned. One study confirm (again) that adults aged 55+ prefer to age in their own homes – even as a Mather study notes that they might be happier and healthier in a senior living community. Does anyone see the oddity of surveying 55 to 70-year olds about what they want in their late aging future? From the survey: "My mom was able to live independently in her home until she was 95." But maybe not always so independently: consider the post-Covid rise of the Medical Home, the rise of 'virtual first' medical visits and telehealth care. And the explosion of wearables to help us stay well or at least be remotely monitored – see Health Populi and the 7WireVentures Market Map.  And please note that the industries to help those aging in place -- home care and home health care -- are overwhelmed with demand and worker shortages

Meanwhile, how about an aging and health reality check-up? Americans are aging long but not necessarily aging well. CDC notes average life expectancies for women (86) and men (83). These are just that, averages. A variety of chronic conditions like arthritis, dementia, diabetes or mobility issues may plague older adults in their longer and later years. Today 30% of older women are widows; another third are divorced.  A growing number of the 50+ population are solo agers, those with no close relatives to share in their future care. But will these individuals really want to 'age in place' alone in their late 70s into their 80s? Or will they want to move to some sort of senior-living community, average age 84, with activities and shared meals? Will the senior living industry figure out how to generate interest among a younger cohort? Will older adults be able to sell their homes and afford to move at an earlier age -- when they might enjoy the company of others and depend less on driving their own cars?  Or will they believe the hype and AARP checklists about aging in place? Should the decision really be about considering the cost of home modification? Or should it be about the dwindling availability of home care workers, now a crisis, leaving frail adults home alone.

[Note: CTA Foundation is encouraging startup companies to apply now to the 2024 CTA Foundation Accessibility Contest -- which seeks entrants who offer products to improve the lives of older adults and those with disabilities.']

[Note: See recent report Future of AI and Older Adults 2023]

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