One of my favorite things to research is the psychology of design and how the world affects us. This will be the beginning of a series of posts discussing various topics, ranging from light, color, room layout, etc. and how it effects our mental wellbeing.
Today we’ll be discussing the elderly and how they should relate to our society as a whole. The Baby Boomer generation is a large portion of the general population. As they age and enter retirement we are continually looking at ways to design which allow the aging population to be comfortable, stay active, and still be an integral part of society.
The general consensus is that it is best for the elderly to stay in their home for as long as possible, without it compromising their health. Designing a space to allow for this, for example putting grab bars in bathrooms, keeping tripping hazards to a minimum, and providing simple layouts, is essential. I found a little goldmine of a book, called “A Pattern Language” by Alexander, Ishikawa and Silverstein. This was published back in 1977 but is filled with ideas still applicable today. It’s premise on this topic is:
“Old people need old people, but they also need the young, and young people need contact with the old.” (A Pattern Language, 1977)
The elderly tend to like to gather together in clusters or communities for support and friendship but when they lose touch with younger generations, both old and young alike suffer. Today the older generations have a tendency to also be forgotten by the young.
“Treated like outsiders, the aged have increasingly clustered together for mutual support or simply to enjoy themselves. A now familiar but still amazing phenomenon has sprung up in the past decade: dozens of good sized new towns that exclude people under 65. Built on cheap, outlying land, such communities offer two-bedroom houses starting at $18,000 plus a refuge from urban violence… and generational pressures.” (Time, August 3, 1970)
Who has not heard of a retirement village? It sounds good on premise, right? Very low maintenance, neat little house to take care of, a multitude of social opportunities, and being around like-aged people. But what are the ramifications of such isolation?
Traditionally, the aged were afforded a degree of prestige by younger generations which seems to have been lost. They also were key in helping to raise the newest family members, the grandchildren. They would impart their wisdom to the next two generations and in return the younger acted as the eyes, ears, and feet of the aged, giving them a helping hand.
In order to continue this traditional relationship between old and young, the elderly need to stay physically integrated with the young. They must share the same streets, shops, and neighborhoods. The amount of independence an aged person has varies greatly and the more independent, generally the less their desire to be exclusively around other elderly. Some need medical services and care but too often when an aged person needs simple services such as cleaning and cooking they are put into nursing care. There is no middle ground which is expensive and unnecessary to them and their families.
What to do? When designing neighborhoods and homes to include the aged, we should allow old people to stay in neighborhoods they know best, make it possible for them to have small clusters of other elderly which provides community, allow independence as desired, and allow nursing care as needed without having to move to a nursing home.
When designing homes for the aging they should accomplish the goal of being able to stay in their house as long as possible. This is best for the mental health of the residents, and also the most affordable for their families. As a final consideration, it is also environmentally friendly as fewer housing facilities are needing to be created. Whether you are considering design for yourself or maybe your parents, grandparents, or even great grandparents let’s all cherish each other as long as possible!