two senior women chat on couch
When Dorothy clicked her ruby red slippers together in the movie “The Wizard of Oz” and repeated over and over, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home,” her adventures in Oz became a symbol of how attached we become to our homes. Our homes play an important role in our lives and, like Dorothy, when we are away from home, we never truly relax until we are finally home again.

This image of home has increasing importance as we age. Many senior citizens hold fast to their homes as a symbol of independence and familiarity. When asked what they fear most, in a 2007 survey conducted by Clarity Products, seniors said they fear a loss of independence or being put in a nursing home even more than they fear death. They are less afraid to die than they are of being put in a nursing home! Yet, for decades, nursing homes have been the expected final residence for our aging population.

In order to remain independent, and hopefully avoid living in a nursing home unless absolutely necessary, many seniors create a long-term plan for living in their current homes as they age. The term “aging in place” is used to describe this idea. Seniors plan for the future and prepare their homes for aging. That way, when the time comes, they are able to remain home—and their home is equipped for their needs: wheelchair ramps, bars for extra hand-holds in the bathrooms, and so on. In addition, with the use of in home care services, many seniors happily remain in their own homes for much longer than they had anticipated.

Aging in place has many benefits. Our homes are connected to our lives, families and memories. Home can be a place of comfort and reassurance for an aging parent. It is difficult enough to cope with the symptoms of aging; aging in a familiar, beloved place can ease those symptoms. In fact, that feeling of continuity, stability and a sense of belonging can help someone remain positive and mentally strong, even while suffering through an illness or injury, says Sue Taylor in her article “Place Identification and Positive Realities of Aging.” Sue notes that when we have positive feelings about the place we live, we are more likely to have a positive self-image. That positive self-image is a powerful tool for healing and coping with difficult circumstances.

Another benefit of aging in place is how familiar we are with maneuvering around in our own homes. Have you ever noticed that even in the dark you can navigate fairly easily around your home, without bumping into things? Our minds are so familiar with the location of tables, chairs, rugs, etc. that we automatically walk around them, even when we can’t see them. When we’ve lived in one place for a long period of time, we develop a “repetitive routine of use,” says Graham D. Rowles in Generations magazine.

And when that routine is disrupted, if someone leaves a toy in the hallway or moves a rug, we are more likely to trip. This can be especially dangerous for the elderly, as they become less stable with age. Falls are a major source of severe injury. If remain in their own home, in a familiar space, they may be less likely to bump into things, trip or fall.

It’s easy to see, when spending time with grandparents or elderly relatives, how important home is to them. Home can include a lot of things about the place they live: the neighborhood, the community, the church—it all plays an important role in who we are and how we feel about ourselves. Aging in place, in their own home, can help loved ones to cope with aging and illness. “There’s no place like home” seems to be the mantra of many senior citizens as they prepare for the coming years.

 

For more information on aging in place, read “Aging in Place Part 2: Preparing Your Home.”