Can your home be a “control center” for independent living?

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Is your home simply the location of a more independent life as you age? Or is it the active enabler of that autonomy?

We’ve run numerous articles here on “aging in place,” reporting new products and services that enhance the home, increase safety and convenience, and even enable better medical monitoring. It’s becoming a multi-billion dollar industry, and we’ll certainly keep reporting on it.

But this provocative article gave us an interesting new spin. It sees the home not just as the background, but as the positive “control center” of independent living. It’s a psychological nuance, but it opens up some powerful insights into the entire SuperAging dynamic.

The author, Dr. Stephen Golant, is a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America and a professor at the University of Florida. He comes at the issue from the perspective of control:

“(Life) span psychologists tell us that most older people are quite resilient. They have the ability to cope constructively with these undesirable life events. They are able to take adaptive actions and bounce back from their misfortunes. For example:

  • They try to better detect, treat and manage their health problems.
  • They look for alternative ways to perform self-care tasks and become more mobile.
  • They change how they access their daily shopping and other essential needs.
  • They try to make their surroundings more compatible with their limitations.
  • They explore new ways to actively engage with their social worlds and enjoy rewarding intellectual and leisure pursuits.

In so doing, they strive to regain control of their lives and to feel positive about themselves.

Such responses are especially characteristic of older baby boomers. This is a generation distinguished by their self-reliant values and strong beliefs in their ability to get things done.”

Viewed from this standpoint, the residence becomes not just as passive (even if it is benign) setting, but the actual “control center” offering up a toolkit that can be used to enable greater autonomy and control. In Dr. Golant’s words, dwellings are “where territorial control is maximized”:

“Because of the relatively small, well-defined and enclosed spaces of their homes, older people feel they have territorial control. Here, their behaviors and experiences are familiar, predictable and positive. Here they are the masters of their own personal space.”

Dr. Golant points out, correctly, that reluctance to give up this control explains why many “reject home-sharing and accessory (in-law) apartment arrangements.” In fact, they can even “resist recommended modification changes, which would admit to their vulnerabilities and, from their perspectives, make their dwellings look and feel like nursing homes.”

Technology can help overcome the “nursing home” stigma. Dr. Golant sees the modern dwelling as the locus of an array of tech-driven tools, such that “older people are better able to take even greater charge of their lives and surroundings — more so than any previous generation.” For example, Internet-connected computers and voice-activated systems liked to AI can provide “easy access to e-commerce providers, stores, restaurants, pharmacies and financial services.” Now add videoconferencing and social media to connect with family and friends. Now add telehealth and the interactivity of passive home health monitoring with health care providers. This array of tech isn’t just delivering greater utility, it’s also delivering essential psychological satisfaction and motivation. The SuperAger is now the captain of the ship, the deployer of an exciting toolkit of resources that enhance — and make real –the feeling of control.

And that “feeling of control” isn’t just a vague psychological “nice thing to have” — it’s an essential component of being positive and optimistic about the future. And that optimism is — in and of itself — a major factor in promoting longevity.

Of course we’ll keep reporting on all the “aging in place” bells and whistles. There’s lot more to come, including even more applications of AI, robotics, virtual reality (for travel and education) and other technology. But it’s important to add the valuable insight offered by Dr. Golant: the SuperAger is Captain Kirk and the home is the bridge.

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