The phrase could be interpreted differently according to different aging and academic authorities

October 6, 2023, 11:54 am By Chris Clow

A reverse mortgage is often touted as an efficient product that can help seniors to “age in place,” but the phrase itself may mean different things to different people.

This is according to Jennifer Molinsky, project director of the Housing and Aging Society Program at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, sharing perspectives with Morningstar.

“People toss around that phrase,” she said. “But what does it really mean? And what do you need to be considering if that’s your plan?”

Unpacking the phrase means understanding that it could have different definitions for yourself and others, she added.

“For some, it means never leaving the house they’re in,” she told Morningstar. “For others, it means staying in their community but living in a different house. And for others it means ‘anywhere but a nursing home.’”

After the phrase is properly defined for the specific individual, it will be easier to assess the individual’s circumstances and their goals for accomplishing the goal of aging in place, wrote columnist Mark Miller.

“Start with an evaluation of your physical environment,” he said. “A very small share of homes in the U.S. are accessible to people with mobility problems, according to research by JCHS. Just 3.5% have single-floor living, no-step entry, and extra-wide halls and doors that can accommodate wheelchairs. The figure drops below 1% if you include features like electrical controls reachable from a wheelchair.”

Assessing how much or little care a person has access to under their conception of aging in place is also a critical factor in the ultimate decision, since some may require in-home caregivers while others will be able to rely more easily on family.

“It’s also important to note that Medicare does not pay for most long-term care services,” the column reads. “[R]egardless of where they happen; reimbursement is limited to a person’s first 100 days in a skilled nursing facility.”

Finally, determining the level of community support is also an important determinative factor when assessing how aging in place combines with needs in later life.

“How will you get around if you no longer drive? Are there social opportunities that can help you avoid becoming isolated?,” the column asks. “Innovations are also occurring nationally at the grassroots level that may offer a different kind of community than you’d previously envisioned.”

These include “villages” that provide support and social contact to those who are aging in place, while older people themselves are also taking the initiative to form their own communities called Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs).

In any event, Molinsky added that discussions about choosing to facilitate aging in place, and surrounding policy to support it, are topics worthy of wider conversation.

“These are difficult discussions to have, but we need to get better about talking about them,” she explained.