Age in Place: What does it really mean?

Oct 25, 2023

Ask people where they hope to live as they get older, and most say they want to age in place in their own homes.

That instinct has only increased over the past few years, amid the horrific death toll from the coronavirus pandemic on older people living in nursing homes or other institutional care settings.

But the phrase “age in place” can mean different things to different people.

“People toss around that phrase,” says Jennifer Molinsky, project director of the Housing an Aging Society Program at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. “But what does it really mean? And what do you need to be considering if that’s your plan?”

Your home is an investment, but it’s a bit different from other financial assets. It’s less liquid and more complex to tap, and it provides shelter and meets other human needs. In that, it is much more than a financial asset—it’s a key component of your lifestyle, health, and happiness.

So any decision you make about housing is not strictly financial. Your decisions should take other factors into account: Is your home designed in a way that makes it suitable for aging in place? Would a move outside your community separate you from family, friends, trusted healthcare providers, and social support?

What does Aging in Place mean to you?

One thing that makes this question so challenging is that humans are not hardwired to think about the future, or our future selves. We tend to think about immediate needs and wants, rather than plan for what might be.

It can be a challenge to get our heads around our daily living needs as we age, slow down, and become less independent, both because it’s a difficult matter to think about, and because we don’t know exactly what those needs are going to look like.

To start, Molinsky urges people to unpack the phrase “aging in place.”

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

Once you know what “aging in place” means to you, you can consider your living situation through that lens.

  • Start with an evaluation of your physical environment.

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.

In India, the situation would not be very different.

As you age, it is not easy to remain living in your home and maintain self-sufficiency. So many things that we take for granted now will be issues later. Hearing issues. Walking up and down the stairs if there is no elevator. Ability to run errands. Ability to cook. Ability to run do grocery shopping. Ability to have a shower on your own. Can you continue to drive. Yes, you may get a cook who comes in or you could order food online. Are you in a position to answer the doorbell or do you have walking issues?

  • Also consider affordability.

Some retirees find themselves burdened with high housing costs that squeeze their budgets. How high is the monthly outgoing? Is the building very old and constant repair needed? You may also have to remodel to accommodate needs associated with aging.

When you tally your living costs, you look at basic expenditure and tax, and insurance premiums. If repair bills are getting more frequent and expensive as the house gets older, it could be a financial burden. How does that compare with your projected retirement income, and will housing consume too much of your budget?

If you’re hoping to stay out of institutional care settings, you may need to be able to get help with long-term care needs at home. Some people can rely on family members for care, if they live nearby and have sufficient flexibility to take time away from their own work and families.

  • Social aspect.

It’s also important to consider what you will need in your community as you age, and whether your current location can meet those needs.

How will you get around if you no longer drive? Are there social opportunities that can help you avoid becoming isolated?

These are difficult discussions to have with family members, and uncomfortable questions to address. But we all need to be talking about them.

Approach housing decisions in retirement with eyes wide open, and a willingness to plan ahead for a time when your needs might change.

This article by Mark Miller initially appeared in and has been edited for an Indian audience
Add a Comment
Please login or register to post a comment.
© Copyright 2024 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use    Privacy Policy
© Copyright 2024 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved. Please read our Terms of Use above. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
As of December 1st, 2023, the ESG-related information, methodologies, tools, ratings, data and opinions contained or reflected herein are not directed to or intended for use or distribution to India-based clients or users and their distribution to Indian resident individuals or entities is not permitted, and Morningstar/Sustainalytics accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for the actions of third parties in this respect.
Company: Morningstar India Private Limited; Regd. Office: 9th floor, Platinum Technopark, Plot No. 17/18, Sector 30A, Vashi, Navi Mumbai – 400705, Maharashtra, India; CIN: U72300MH2004PTC245103; Telephone No.: +91-22-61217100; Fax No.: +91-22-61217200; Contact: Morningstar India Help Desk (e-mail: in case of queries or grievances.