Aging-in-place: A complex process of constant coping and compensation
This project was completed for the Visualizing Complexity course I took while on exchange at OsloMet in Norway. Aging-in-place is commonly defined as living at home or in the community while maintaining independence and with needs being met. It often carries ambiguous meaning and focuses on residential supports for aging, excluding institutional or long-term care. My goal was unpacking the terminology to understand how aging-in-place is a complex challenge beyond managing physical competencies in a residential environment.
I looked through academic and gray literature and reviewed different definitions and ideas of aging-in-place, and how the concept was used by governments, health organizations, care providers and media. I translated the information using visualization techniques, including causal loops and system mapping, to unpack different factors relevant to aging-in-place, especially the intersection of identity, the aging process and the meaning of place.
The gigamap showcases aging-in-place, its diverse factors, and person-environment interactions, framing it within a life course perspective. The map also looks at different scenarios for aging and questions the idealized or optimal way to age at home or in the community.
A major portion of the map is devoted to person-environment interactions, exploring what makes up self-identity and how that situates the individual inside the concept of place. It’s evident that personal, environmental and systemic factors contribute to a person’s experience with life and aging. Research theories and models were layered and connected to uncover insights about human behaviour in different environmental contexts. By doing that, I gained greater understanding into the complex systems and drivers that influence aging-in-place.
Based on the work above, I developed several broad concepts for interventions to support aging-in-place: adaptive products that changed along with the user; improving assessments to consider the holistic person; building emotional resilience to manage life changes; and creating flexible, inclusive environments to better support aging.
This project was formative in pushing my visualization skills to help connect and synthesize research, including the mapping of theories and insights. More importantly, my work has led me towards a greater understanding of aging-in-place and discovering an area of knowledge that I’ll continue to be passionate about and advocate on for many years to come.