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The Meaning of "Aging in Place" to Older People – 2011


Community planners and local leaders understand the importance of good messaging. If an idea is communicated with negative connotations for the receiver, then that idea may be doomed to failure. This journal article in The Gerontologist explores the connotations of the phrase “aging in place” to determine its effectiveness for older adults.

Key Points

Researchers conducted a qualitative research study with 121 older adults between the ages of 56 and 92 in the Glen Innes (GI) and Tokoroa communities in New Zealand. The central question of the study was, “What is the ideal place to grow older?” Discussions then revolved around advantages and disadvantages for aging in place, as well as how much aging in place meant to them. The average age of all participants was 74.

Journal article highlights include:

  1. The results of the study indicated that older people wanted to have choices about their living arrangements as they age, as well as access to services and amenities.
  2. Though the term “aging in place” is nearly ubiquitous among planners and policy makers, it was unknown to the participants. However, there were more positive than negative associations with the phrase.
  3. Aging in place has a broader connotation than simply living in one’s home as he/she ages. Many older residents distinguished between their physical homes and their neighborhoods. In other words, aging in place is also about “aging in a familiar area.” Familiarity becomes important as one grows older.
  4. While participants stated that communities or areas are as important as places, they also stated that physical homes bring with them a sense of refuge and security.
  5. Choice is key. Older adults want to have a sense of independence for as long as possible. For aging in place to be successful, messaging should also convey how aging in place ties to personal identity and choice. As adults grow older they do not want their independence removed from them.

How to Use

Local officials and community planners can use the study to justify the use of the term “aging in place” in branding opportunities. They should also consider the outcomes of the research indicated in this report as it relates to a sense of community, familiarity and choice. Doing so will help create support within the community for future aging in place initiatives and policies.

View full report: The Meaning of “Aging in Place” to Older People – 2011 (PDF – 173 KB)

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