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The imge conveyed is often one of old people huddled helplessly behind clsoed doors, deprived of communication with the outside world, with virtually no friends or neighbors beyond their immediate residence. The elderly are portrayed as outcasts, existing in a stifling atmosphere without stimulation from the young and productive members of society. Such is the spectre raised by senior citizen housing and retirement communities--or geriatric ghettoes, to sue the harsh term applied by their critics.
It is conservatively estimated that almost 2 million elderly persons aged 60 and older, about 6 percent of the U.S. elderly population, permanently reside in housing and communities that have been deliberately planned or organized for their occupancy. These statistics do not include the elderly in institutions (e.g., nursing homes) or the many millions of elderly who occupy unplanned age-segregated apartments and neighborhoods. The latter population concentrations have resulted primarily from the residential inertia of people who have chosen not to move upon retirement--they literally have aged-in-place.
A reliable projection of the future number of elderly in planned age-segregated housing units is unavailable. What is certain, however, is the presence of a substantial consumer market for these accommodations. Moreover, because of the large projected growth of the elderly population in this country, the demand for these living arrangements will steadily increase. By the year 2020 approximately 71 million people will be 60 and older, some 24 percent of the total U.S. population.
Although occupied by a substantial number of the U.S. elderly, age-segregated or retirement housing is a concept that is often roundly criticized. Yet the elderly people who live in these settings persistently report high levels of satisfaction with their residences. This article attempts to explain this paradox and in so doing offers a defense of this often maligned, yet very significant housing alternative for senior citizens.
The Critics Are Biased
While having in common an age-segregated social situation, planned senior housing and retirement communities consist of an extremely diverse array of residential accommodations. Lumped in this category are retirement villages, mobile home parks, federally-subsidized low-rent apartments, retirement hotels, non-profit sponsored low-rent apartments for the elderly, garden and high-rise apartments, condominium complexes, and life-care facilities (or congregate housing).
Not surprisingly, the features and facilities found in these different types of housing vary dramatically. Some offer 24-hour medical supervision and nursing care, others only the telephone number of an on-call physician; some provide on-site meals and counseling (information and referral) services, others only access to home-delivered meal programs; some have completely equipped, well-supervised leisure-oriented facilities, others contain only a make-shift card room off the building's main lobby; some have architectural designs sensitive to the needs of old people, …