Aging in Place: Health Ecology


Knowing how to age and not being afraid of aging is very healthy.

~ Evelyn Lauder

Aging in Place
When Mick Jagger sang “Gimme Shelter” in 1970, senior housing was not a hot topic. But as baby boomers boogie past 60, the buying and housing needs of this enormous demographic transition (and COVID19) is becoming an issue. The frequently quoted statistic of over 90% of seniors polled by AARP shows a preference for aging in place as apposed to senior housing options. My guess is that number has only grown considering the COVID19 pandemic. So, it comes as no surprise that housing will require some redesigning to enable older adults to remain in their dwellings of choice.

Therapeutic Use of Environment
The relatively new science of health ecology—using environmental adaptations to accommodate health status, has become an area rich for practical application. Exploring innovative environmentally based interventions that support more active lifestyles is at the heart of this new approach to aging well. It has been found that aesthetics such as pathways, trees, and areas of environmental interest—free from traffic and noises, would motivate individuals to exercise. This creative use of environment as a point of non-medical intervention is key to the universally designed home movement. Knowing that environmental adaptations such as pathways, trees, and aesthetically pleasing additions i.e., flower beds, plants, greenspaces, could possibly compliment medical interventions, is encouraging to practitioners like me who search for new methods to bring the responsibility for one’s health back to the realm of the individual.

Organizations such as Kaiser Permanente are currently exploring non-medical interventions such as housing, as sources of wellness to keep members healthy. This could possibly lead to healthcare practices focusing on domestic environments in the future. Key to this area of inquiry lies in the potential to target specific environmental applications to manage various home structural/physical barriers to wellness. Practitioners could and should explore ways to empower older adults in the home via environmental means. The medical model has done a masterful job of transforming the aging process into a “medical problem” by creating dependency on costly treatments and drugs (sick care). Changing the focus slightly from what’s wrong with the individual (decline emphasis on pathology) to perhaps emphasizing more of what might be improved in one’s environment, could go a long way to empowering the individual to a self-care model. Home-as-health-protectant is possible with aging in place safely as the goal.

Rural older women offer insight for why nature is important when aging in place
Health Ecology: A discipline of study which evaluates humans and wellness in regard to their total environment.


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