A neighbor in my community on Orcas Island in northwestern Washington lives in a home that is held in a trust. Although he does not own the home or control the trust, he is allowed to stay in the home as long as he lives. If he is unable to stay in the home, or when he dies, the home will be sold. Another neighbor has advanced dementia. As his disease progressed, the deed to his home was transferred to his younger sister, along with his finances.

Polls taken over the years consistently report the vast majority of people say they want to “age in place” – to age and eventually die in their homes. However, for many, aging in their home is not a choice; it is a necessity. Their only option is to age in place, due to lack of money, other resources, or other reasons. They cannot simply sell their home and go somewhere else.

These people often remain invisible to others. I see it here on Orcas Island where our focus is often on things other than an elderly person living alone in a cabin in the woods.
So what do we do? First, let’s recognize that not all are blessed with money and resources, and that there are other housing situations than just those of direct ownership and rentals. Let’s not assume that our situation is the same as that of our neighbors and friends.

Once we recognize this, how can we not pay attention? How can we not help find ways to support people so they may stay in their homes safely, as they age? Not just people who wish to stay in their homes, but also people who have no other choice than to stay in their homes, no matter how difficult that option may seem to be.

The Orcas Senior Center in Eastsound, Washington, offers two programs to assist senior, ill, and disabled adults in the community. By providing companionship, assistance with basic household tasks, and help with simple home repairs and safety upgrades, these programs can help people stay in their homes as they age.

Does an organization in your community offer programs like these? If so, consider yourself lucky that they may be available to help you or a loved one someday, even if aging in place is a choice not a necessity. To find out more about these programs or to support the Orcas Senior Center, visit orcasseniors.org or call (360) 3376-2677.

Lynnette Wood

Lynnette Wood spent her professional career as a scientist helping developing countries assess their resources and their needs in order to plan effectively for the future. Now retired, Lynnette serves on the board of directors of the Orcas Senior Center on Orcas Island where she lives. The community is part of the San Juan Islands in Washington’s Puget Sound, about 90 miles from Seattle.