There needs to be a much larger emphasis on designing homes and neighborhoods for aging in place as the nation’s senior population continues to explode for the next couple of decades, with only about 4% of the 65+ demographic entering nursing homes, according to former Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary Henry Cisneros in an interview published in Kaiser Health News and the Washington Post.
Aging in place is something that roughly 90% of older adults want to do, AARP studies say, but to make that possible, houses and neighborhoods must be designed and built for “lifelong” living to accommodate people as they age, he says.
Losing the ability to communicate or socially engage with others is a huge fear for many seniors, says Cisneros, who currently runs a company specializing in urban real estate. Recent studies have shown the dangers of isolation and loneliness, but with so many people wanting to maintain their independence and stay in their own homes, there are some issues the nation needs to address.
Here are some selected excerpts from the Cisneros interview:
First, I’d like to see us commit as a nation to creating lifelong homes. Only 4 percent of the 65-plus population goes to a nursing home. Most are at home for a long, long time. We should make this a priority, just as we did with creating more energy efficient homes.
This could involve certifying a package of age-related home improvements — the kinds of things we did for my parents — and coming up with public and private strategies for financial support.
Second, we ought to be thinking about how we accessorize communities for an aging population. Today, we build parks for children. Imagine a park where older people would have stations for exercise. Think about age-appropriate recreation facilities. Think about how we make transit available, so people who no longer drive can get to the doctor.
As we build new communities we should focus on walkability — making sure that older people can walk to facilities they need, like groceries and pharmacies.
I think we’ll be recycling older communities in many parts of the U.S. — clearing away obsolete buildings and reconfiguring them as elderly housing. The recession has created a lot of sites that are no longer economically viable. Strip centers, even regional malls are being remade with housing for the elderly in mind.
We also need to generate prototypes for new age appropriate homes for people who are leaving McMansions and looking for a smaller home.
The baby boomers are the first American suburban generation. But the suburbs are the worst place to age because they’re so unwalkable and totally dependent on the automobile. Living in a cul de sac is really hard when you lose access to your car. So these communities have to think of new strategies.
I also think we can make the case that cost savings can be achieved by keeping people living independently as long as possible instead of going to assisted-living or nursing home facilities.
Written by Alyssa Gerace