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Did you know that 20 million older adults in the U.S. live in unaffordable and unsafe housing?

And that only 1 percent of all housing stock in America has the recommended universal design features, such as a step-free entry, multiple countertop heights, wide doorways, lever faucets, and a curbless shower with a handheld adjustable shower head?

These facts come from a recent report by the AARP Foundation and the Harvard Joint Center of Housing Studies. Clearly we have a lot of work to do in the senior housing industry.

AARP leaders think, though, that it’s more than just housing for seniors.  And they are right. If we are to remain in our homes and communities as we get older, then our homes and communities have to be designed for people of all ages and abilities.

AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins, wrote recently that “We need a new focus, not just on senior housing, but housing for an entire lifetime, housing for all generations and all income levels that allows us to live comfortable yin good health, go where we want to go safely and remain active and engaged in society.”

Housing for Life.

Now there’s a tagline someone should be using.  Maybe they are, or will be — because with the support of a few sponsors, AARP has launched two competitions to spark new solutions:

  1. Redefining Home:  Home Today, Home Tomorrow challenges architects and designers to create new standards in housing design so people can stay in their home throughout a variety of life stages. The winning design will be used to rebuild a home for a family (to be chosen later).
  2.  2016 Aging in Place $50k  Challenge is awarding $50,000 to an innovative startup company that is developing solutions that can help low-income individuals over the age of 50 continue living safely, independently and comfortably in their homes.

These competitions are part of AARP’s Future of Housing initiative, which convened a two-day summit on the topic in December. Check it out — and also all the housing and livable communities resources at the bottom of the page.

What does all this mean for the senior living industry? If people stay in their homes, will we still need residential care facilities? Given the challenges of caring for someone with dementia or is really frail, I think so.

But the senior living industry needs a new focus, too.

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Leave a comment

Michael Walsh

2 years ago

Great article …and very relevant to our baby boom generation and our economy – home based care is preferable to institutional care and costs less. And our seniors will be happier …and we are all heading in that direction.

Margaret Fleming

2 years ago

Good for you, Sara. As a patient, and a person who has worked in a design firm, watching appliance and fixture stock come in, and listening to the customers, I’ve been longing for someone to take this up. Wish there were a category in Redefining Home for amateur design from patients.
Good designers, especially well-known ones, must make glamourous, safe designs to attract the young and booming who can spend now. (And the mid-age and older who don’t believe they may someday not be able to turn that cute faucet.)

Guess I need to write some letters.

Bill Coble

2 years ago

Sara this is great you have featured this, new developments that do offer a senior living design are far and few between. It would be great to see the ACHA take this on as a project.
87% of Americans would prefer to die in their homes vs. a senior living or retirement community. Home design and manufactures have a great opportunity here to create affordable options at all price points and enhance the wellbeing of more than just Boomers.
Great post – thank you.


Sara Marberry, EDAC, is a healthcare design knowledge expert, thought catalyst, and strategic marketing and business development consultant. The author/editor of three books, Sara writes and speaks frequently about industry trends and evidence-based design. She can be reached at sara@saramarberry.com.

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