Baby boomers are typically in denial about the inevitability of the aging process, and adamant that they will never move to an aged care facility by choice.  But they are happy to downsize to a golf resort or similar – so modern retirement developments may look like any other attractive new homes, but also incorporate good design features, catering for occupants who may become less mobile and require in-home support services as they age.

Ageless design removes the stigma often attached to aged housing, and enables people to remain in their own home for as long as possible.  Indeed, the concept of “ageless” means these homes are better designed to cater for a diverse range of needs – whether these be young families with prams, or people with disabilities. They may address issues such as door widths, steps, handles, size of rooms and location of bedrooms and many other details people don’t consider until it’s too late, or too expensive to retro-fit their home later on.

The New York Times recently interviewed an architect and a gerontologist who specializes in the relationship between aging and the built environment, who have co-authored a book titled "Unassisted living - ageless homes for later life". (See link to articles below). They look at 33 examples of residences designed to look good and appeal to babyboomers but also cater for the occupants’ declining years. They talk about the boomer mindset and how that differs from older generations, and identify many practical home design issues: such as a lack of thresholds as you enter, surfaces that don’t create glare from sunlight, and accessible bathrooms and showers that have no or minimal thresholds. Also,décor that makes for easy navigation. Minimising surfaces where you can slip, or bump into furniture, to avoid trips and falls.

Taking this concept further, the development of ageless communities encourages the planning of multi–generational, diverse housing stock where senior housing is only one part of the mix. Senior residents can then participate in local activities and access local services, without feeling as if they have been marginalised within a senior community. Technology has enabled a lengthy transition to retirement which commonly includes part time work or working from home, and safer by design principles can also help ensure better security and a safer environment is addressed too.

Some of the concepts of ageless design challenge the stereotype of decreasing mobility – by actively encouraging a healthy level of physical and mental activity. In addition to including swimming pools, gyms and golf courses, people are encouraged to regularly walk short distances or cycle safely to the local shops using well constructed footpaths and cycleways.  And having bedrooms upstairs may be a good way of ensuring incidental daily exercise, if there is still one bedroom and bathroom downstairs in case it is needed later on.

So in supporting healthier communities and fitter residents, and challenging traditional concepts of retirement, ageless design is creating attractive modern homes that actually appeal to baby boomers.  When combined with financial imperatives to downsize mortgages, stamp duty incentives, and a lengthy transition to retirement period, it’s easy to see why living in a well designed ageless community will become an increasingly popular option.

See:

New York Times interview.
Parsons School of Design.
World Health Organization: Age Friendly Cities.
Ireland: Ageing Well Network.