What does aging in place mean to you?

April 21, 2022
Aging in place.
Federal Retirees members recently participated in an important study of aging in place by the University of British Columbia, in collaboration with the Central Okanagan Branch.

This article was contributed by Melanie Fenton and Jennifer M. Jakobi on behalf of the Aging In Place University of British Columbia Okanagan Research Cluster.

This question formed the foundation of a recent study by the Aging In Place Research Cluster at the University of British Columbia in partnership with the Central Okanagan Branch of the National Association of Federal Retirees. The answers, we found, are complex and highly personal. Despite this, there were many common beliefs held by Federal Retirees members as to what it means to age in place, and thoughtful suggestions about what that place should look like, and how to make this possible for more older adults across Canada.

Members were invited to participate in an online survey and virtual focus groups held in October 2021 where they gave their thoughts and perspectives on aging in place, preferred housing and supports needed to age in place. From these surveys and discussions, five interrelated themes were identified: aging with choice, the built environment, the social environment, communication and information and funding.

“Aging with choice” was woven into all aspects of aging in place and participants were highly aware of the importance of planning ahead to ensure decisions were made from a place of “choice” versus “necessity”. Staying at home or within the same community was important to participants but most recognized that wants and needs change across the lifespan and that having acceptable choices available is key ⁠— including affordable and accessible services. Similarly, concerns about financial feasibility, lack of government support and health-care costs all affect the choices a person may have.

“Aging in place means, to me, having the support we need at our fingertips.”

Participants also discussed needs around practical components of the built environment, including housing, transportation and services, as well as how to access information about these and other needs in an increasingly digital world. The social environment also plays an important role in aging in place and how this looks is highly individualized. Older adults rely on layers of community, ranging from family, to friends, to community involvement and volunteerism.

“I prefer to stay in an area where all my friends are. We're well suited to here, my husband's had some medical problems, and I would hate to be stuck in another area where we don't have our friends and we don't have all the medical staff we're comfortable with.”

On the surface, “aging in place” may appear to mean “staying in the same place.” However, our study demonstrated that, the element of choice was more important to older adults than the physical location. Older adults are not a homogenous group and “aging with choice” is highly personal. For this reason, older adults should consider and discuss, early and often, their desires and preferences for aging. Planning ahead can be difficult when information about options and services is hard to access. The National Association of Federal Retirees endeavors to make resources more readily available for members to enable informed decision-making. Begin planning for tomorrow with our estate planning workbook, You and Your Survivors, or by reading “Aging in place perfectly”, an article from Sage magazine with tips and resources from experts.