A frequently quoted AARP survey found that most older persons prefer to age in place, preferably in homes and neighborhoods in which they have lived for some time. According to a study published in The Gerontologist, most adults over the age of 65 already age in place. The majority of people stay in the same home until they are very old. They have a strong attachment to their homes, outdoor spaces and neighborhoods.
The psychological impact of being uprooted, therefore, should not be overlooked when considering options other than aging in place for a senior.
What do scientists say about the benefits of aging in place? The following bullet points are taken from the study, “Is Aging in Place a Resource for or Risk to Life Satisfaction?” by Frank Oswald, Daniela Jopp, Christoph Rott, and Hans-Werner Wahl published in The Gerontologist (see Source list below). A summary and interpretation here is beneficial.
- Scientists note differences between the young-old and old-old.
Scientists draw an interesting distinction between the so-called young-old and the old-old. They say a person is young-old from 65 years of age to 80. Ages over 80 are considered old-old. These two groups form “cohorts” or groups for study. There are significant differences between them, including their responses to various aspects of aging in place.
- Who lives with you matters less when you are old-old.
Between the ages of 65 and 80, having companionship inside the home, such as a spouse or relatives who share the same household is important to life satisfaction and wellbeing.
Over age 80, though, with whom a person lives or not doesn’t have as much impact on life satisfaction. The scientists speculated that the old-old have adapted to life’s losses and their satisfaction is not necessarily increased by living with someone.
- The quality and safety of the neighborhood they live in mean a lot to life satisfaction and a sense of wellbeing to both young-old and old-old, but is particularly important to the old-old.
The old-old, in general, have more limitations on movement and activities due to increasing health issues. The quality of their environment, then, becomes increasingly meaningful to them as far as secure navigation and familiarity goes.
The scientists noted that people who are aging in place who have misgivings about the safety and quality of the neighborhood around them tend to experience more distress, more depression and higher cardiovascular risk.
- The familiarity of the home setting and the neighborhood, a feeling of belonging there and being able to get around and along there may help offset the loss of life satisfaction experienced by a decline in health.
SeniorsMatter.com advises that this is an important fact to consider when health concerns seem to dictate a more institutionalized setting. The senior may be healthier, but not happier in such a setting.
- Young-old and old-old alike enjoy having friends and relatives in their neighborhood and having cordial relations with fellow apartment building dwellers or neighbors. This is important to their wellbeing and life satisfaction, but it was more important to the young-old than the old-old. Again, scientists say, the old-old have sustained many losses of significant persons in their lives and have adapted to them.
- The young-old have more life satisfaction in general. They are healthier, sharper mentally, more involved socially and more active than the old-old, who are often hampered by health conditions.
- The strongest difference between young-old and old-old in terms of life satisfaction was in the area that scientists call ADL–activities of daily living. When people are able to feed, dress, toilet, cleanse, and rise and sit down by themselves, they experience greater life satisfaction while they are aging in place. In general, of course, the young-old can better take care of ADL.
- Young-oldsters derived satisfaction from larger living areas.
- Old-oldsters preferred smaller living areas.
The young-old who are aging in place, in general, derive life satisfaction from larger homes, outdoor spaces, sharing a household with someone, and living in a safe and friendly neighborhood.
The old-old who are aging in place generally derive greater life satisfaction from smaller living quarters, a good quality neighborhood that they consider safe, and accessible outdoor space which is familiar and pleasurable to them. Neighborhood safety and quality was particularly important to the old-old group in terms of life satisfaction during aging in place. However, their life satisfaction was strongly dependent on being able to perform activities of daily living themselves.
Aging in place provides significant life satisfaction and contributes to general wellbeing as long as the home is an appropriate size, the person has the familial and social contacts he or she desires, the neighborhood feels safe and comfortable, and he or she is able to take care of the basic tasks of daily living. That is not a very tall order in most cases.
Oswald, Frank, Jopp, Daniela, Rott, Christoph, Wahl, Hans-Werner (2011). Is Aging in Place a Resource for or Risk to Life Satisfaction? The Gerontologist (2011) 51 (2): 238-250. DOI: 10.1093/geront/gnq096. Retrieved from http://gerontologist.oxfordjournals.org/content/51/2/238.long.