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What you need to know about aging in place at home


Q. Two elderly gentlemen in their 80s live next door to us with no children and with no relatives or friends close by. They have substantial money and feel they will be OK staying at home. One of the men is showing signs of dementia; the other is unaware of future issues. Their home is a small 1920s home with a small bathroom, is not wheelchair accessible and there is no place for a ramp. I am concerned as a good neighbor and physical therapist. Could you write a column about assessing your living space and needs for the future? 

You are referring to what is called aging in place. It means staying in your home as long as you can instead of using other options. These options may include assisted living or continuing-care communities, home sharing or what is referred to as active aging communities. 

We know that most people want to age in their own homes surrounded by loved ones, friends and their community. Some folks love their homes, and the ambience, memories and location they’ve grown accustomed to. And then there is having a sense of control and familiarity with the space. 

The percentage of adults age 50 and older who want to age in place ranges from 77 percent, as reported by AARP, up to 88 percent and noted by the National Poll on Healthy Aging.

And we know that age is a risk factor for falls; more than one in four people aged 65 and older fall each year. Over half of these falls occur in one’s home. So, safety is an important priority. 


To prevent falls, see the safety checklist from the National Institute on Aging. 

Here are some highlights from various sources. 

  • Keep floors clear. Remove clutter, small furniture, pet gear, electrical cords, and anything else that might cause someone to trip.

  • Don’t use throw rugs. Check that carpets are securely attached to the floor.

  • Place no-slip strips or non-skid material on tile and wood floors that might get wet.

  • Arrange or even remove furniture so there is plenty of space to walk.

  • Place essential items where they can be easily reached.

  • Add grab bars inside and outside the bathtub or shower and next to the toilet.

  • Place railings on both sides of the stairs and make sure the stairwell is well-lit. 

  • Place light switches at the top and bottom of the stairs and turn on night lights.

  • Make sure outdoor areas have sufficient lighting; walkways should be smooth and free of puddles. 

  • Consider home modification as needed. 

Just a few changes can make one’s home safer and easier to live in and enhance independent living. 

Although aging in place is the predominant choice for most older adults, not everyone believes that it is the best solution. I recently talked with Sara Zeff Geber, author of “Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers: A Retirement and Aging Roadmap for Single and Childless Adults,” (Mango, 2018). She said, “Aging in place is not a plan. It’s denial — and it ignores an opportunity.” Geber suggests we change “reframing aging in place” to “aging in the right place,” which opens new opportunities for us to thrive, not just survive, in these bonus years.”

In a Washington Post piece, Stephen M. Golan, a University of Florida professor of gerontology, believes the concept of aging in place has been overhyped, particularly by “health care providers, builders eager to capitalize on renovating homes for older people and financial institutions who have popularized reverse mortgages” as quoted in the Washington Post (March 5, 2015). He notes the concept has become a mantra in recent years that might prevent older adults from seeking healthier, more holistic alternatives. He refers to aging in place as possible “residential inertia.” 

Other experts suggest Golant’s going against the tide of most people’s preferences. “Every survey we have says it’s what people prefer to do,” according to Susan C. Reinhard, senior vice president at AARP and director of its Public Policy Institute. “That’s not to say it’s the right choice for everybody,” he says in the Washington Post article. 

Thank you N.R. for your good question. Next week we’ll address the second part of your question in looking at future needs. In the meantime, know that no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on


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