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Our second lesson offers basic information you'll need to make connections between the family life and residential cycles. First, we'll travel through both cycles with Harriet and Homer House as our guides. Then see how to plan for "aging in place" in one's long-time home, and finally meet Future Shock (gero-technology)!

Upon completing Lesson Two’s Mission, you will, of course:

  1. Explain how human and social changes over the Family Life Cycle result in changing housing needs over the same family's Residential Cycle.

  2. Evaluate new and existing dwellings for UD features and home modifications that can help older adults age in place.

WORD BANK (in order of appearance and bolded in the narrative): Family life and residential cycles, way-station housing, adult-vs-child-oriented housing, familial status discrimination, lead-based paint poisoning, single-parent households, aging in place, ADLs, functional status, fall and fire safety, home modifications, assistive services… Rather than memorizing them, use and apply the terms to your own situation.


Meet "Homer and Harriet House", a middle-aged 3+ bedroom house (if it helps, visualize Harriet as a "talking living room" and Homer as a garage that "speaks" through his doors). Our 50-Something house/couple describes the changing housing needs and choices of "typical" American families as they move through the life stages. Compare your family and home to the parts of the cycle that your family has experienced so far.

H&H are for sale, so they’re reminiscing about the days when, as a much younger house, they provided shelter to a family whose grown kids now have their own families. In today’s diverse society, many families do NOT march through ALL the possible stages of either the life or residential cycle. Use the descriptions that follow to remind you of past and potential future experiences. Think about how UD can enable a family to live in one dwelling from marriage through child-raising and old-old age.

Although the Family Life Cycle begins with a newlywed couple, the Residential Cycle begins when a young adult moves out of the family home "on their own"--and doesn't end when one’s spouse dies. Widows and widowers continue to need housing whether or not they remarry.

Now, here come Homer and Harriet, with their eaves wide open to catch every word. (P.S: Having YOUR situation described by someone else is one way to be more objective—try it sometime!)

Young Single Adults: Having My OWN Place

College Graduate
Credit: Learning Multi-Systems
"Well, Homer, I'm not sure whether swinging young singles (ages 18-35) would want to live here. We're a nice house, but THEY have a world of social choices and future goals to seek. They are more likely to need rented "way station housing" while they focus outwardly on careers and eventual marriage or life partnerships."

Harriet continues, "Depending on their incomes, available transportation, and need for a secure place, young singles may live alone, with a roommate(s), or even buy a house." Homer chimes in,"Remember the Smithouses down the street, Sweetie? Their 'Boomerang son' came back home to re-charge after job hunting for months with no success."

"You know, Homeroo, some young SWINGles travel light and just rent an easy-care, furnished roost near the bus line while they get a job, socialize, and look for their Prince or Princess. Others furnish an efficiency apartment with recycled family cast-offs and yard sale accessories. Singles with career goals may transfer cross-country as they climb the corporate ladder."

"But Harriet, dear, 20-Something SINGLE college grads may want to buy their first home NOW. Hardly any decent rentals allow pets OR provide good security systems AND garages! A well-paid young single professional may need the income tax deductions that home ownership offers—IF s/he can afford both the down payment and mortgage interest rate. Really! I’m surprised that today’s 'newly-launched' young adult singles have such a variety of both housing needs AND shelter choices!"

Childless Young Couples: Adult-Oriented Housing

"As you well know, Homie, the newlywed stage can last a few months or several years. Don't they call this group, 'DINKs' (Dual Income, No Kids [yet]), since most young wives are employed at least until the first child arrives?"

"Well, Harry-honey, for couples who want to buy a home during this time, WE could be just right. We offer a place midway between city and suburban jobs, and possibly within an hour or two of both sets of in-laws."

"At today's housing prices, Homer, even dual-income couples may need to rent while saving for their first home. The gamble is whether they can save enough for a down payment AND find an affordable house by the time the first child arrives. Heaven knows, babies use lots of space (for crib, changing table, rocker, washer/dryer, and GOBS OF GRANDBABY GIFTS!!)."

"You know, Honeybun, this ‘honeymooner’ group also includes professional couples who wait to start a family until both are established in their careers. In the meantime, they may 'baby' their dog or cat (IF the management allows pets), and may even buy a really great home that fits the ‘exactly two’ children they plan to have.”

"Yes, dear, then there are the voluntarily childless couples who do not plan to have any children. Instead, they choose to save the second paycheck for a BIG down payment on a luxury home. Or they may spend it to live in an expensive adult-oriented, pet-friendly, country club-style rental complex with heated garages, big pools, and a health club."

"Ah, a temporarily childless young couple could buy us now AND stay here after they start their family. Since we're in the best school district in the area, we can meet young couples' housing needs—with OR without kids!"

Three babies sitting in a row
Credit: Lands End.

Nuclear Family with Pre-school Children: Safety First!

"Remember how crowded we were with our babies in that first house, Homer? But with one income, what else could we do? Young families today are no different in needing more space (bedrooms, that is) plus a child-safe home with a fenced yard."

"Since the majority of today’s American mothers of pre-school children are employed outside the home, their housing ‘short list’ is: 1) a child-safe, easy-care home, 2) near a good family day care home (group care centers usually don't take infants), and 3) located near one (or better yet, both) spouse’s job."

"Sweet Harry, do you know that laws protect housing choice and safety for families with young children? Since 1988, the federal Fair Housing Act has covered families with children under age 18 at home against housing discrimination. Thus, ’NO-child’ rules and ‘adults-ONLY’ buildings or sections are ILlegal in rental housing and condominium apartments."

House full of lead Pre-1978 housing may have several 'danger spots' that can cause lead poisoning in toddlers. List or mark X on those places or things.
Credit: U.S. Dept. Housing & Urban Development.

"Sadly, my dear Harriet, the Fair Housing familial status protection is NOT a well-known fact. Young couples may suspect they're being steered by rental agents to a ‘more suitable development’ because of their children. If so, they should visit the local Human Relations Commission to learn how to fight housing discrimination."

Another law, the Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Act of 1990, was designed to protect families who live in housing built before 1978. Real estate and rental agents as well as remodeling contractors must 1) warn home buyers and tenants if the dwelling is ‘pre-1978’ and 2) inform the occupants about the dangers of lead-paint poisoning to toddlers and pregnant women. Landlords also may be required to abate (cover or remove) the lead paint.

"Yo, Homer, toddlers like to eat sweet paint chips that flake off window sills or cracked walls. They may also play in dirt contaminated by lead from old car batteries buried nearby. Since lead accumulates in the body, and toddlers’ bodies are small, they risk lead poisoning if the danger is not abated."
A boy on a stool cleaning his teeth



Adults are much larger and their bodies can accumulate larger amounts of lead without danger. But a pregnant woman who inhales lead dust can pass it to the fetus. In both unborn children and toddlers, lead poisoning can cause developmental disabilities and even death. Remember that date--1978!

"Well, my sweet, I'm sure a young family would have loved our big, fenced yard and the rec room we finished off in the basement. But since we were built right after World War II and have been repainted MANY times, I hope we get sold to a family with older children."

"You're right, Homer, but Officer Uggh told me just the other day that unlocked medicine chests and the cabinets under kitchen sinks are still the greatest dangers to America's little crawlers and toddlers." With our child-safety locks, at least THAT’S not a problem here!"

Elementary and Teen Years: A Home's Finest Years !

Kids playing street hockey"Harry dear, a family with elementary, middle, or high school kids would be perfect here! Our big house and yard could handle Cub and Brownie Scout meetings, 4-H and Science Fair projects, up through church youth groups and Studio 2B and Eagle Scouts. We've got SERIOUS room for teens--maybe even a Garage Band! Thank Heaven, it’s a DEtached garage!"

"You're right Homer! All but one local school is within two miles, and beyond that, bussing is available. The Mom might NOT have be a taxi driver, especially after the oldest gets his/her first car. But what if she works outside the home? Does our town have after-school programs so the 'under-12s' don't become latchkey kids?" "On second thought, Sweetie, since we live in the metro area, will the children be school-bussed for equal educational opportunity? OR, maybe the teens will want to attend that high-tech magnet school down in the inner-city."

Single-Parent Families: Same Housing Needs, Lower Income?

Little Girl

Musini by
RKS Design
"Say, Harriet, did you hear that the Jones' in that new subdivision across the road just divorced? They have to sell the house because she can't afford the payments AND upkeep on what she earns. Yet she wants the children to have the stability of staying in the same day care centers and schools. Do you think they could maintain us AND the yard, now that we're almost an Older Home?"

"If we get sold as a rental, Homer, and IF Ms. Jones can get rental housing assistance, maybe they could live here on a single, lower income. That is, IF the landlord doesn't dare discriminate against single Moms and their kids."

Car Video Image
"They shouldn't have to move over and over to find affordable, decent housing in a safe neighborhood. But at least, having the children bussed to school could ease her transportation costs and worry. She still has to drive that old rust-bucket, ya know."

"Well Honeybun, we'd best batten down the hatches. Winter's coming and you know how us older houses can let the hot air leak out and the cold wind blow right in! Let's take a break and be back in a few...

AUTHORS’ NOTE: Did you recognize your family stage(s) yet? We tried to include all info about specific life cycle stages and their related housing needs, although even "typical" families may not experience everything we discussed! IF your family is in more than one life stage at once (e.g., if you, your parents, brother and sister [ages 2, 17], and grandma live together), the housing situation may be complicated!

We hope you enjoy listening to a HOUSE/COUPLE ‘TALK’ about how they try to meet their family's needs.... We’ll bet that those Extreme Makeover Homes on ‘TV don’t talk—they just sit there and GRIN from eave to eave—in FULL COLOR!


Today, age-related changes are driving a HUGE potential market for Universal Design products, especially at home. In the U. S., the age 50-100 group can include three generations of OLDER ADULTS IN ONE FAMILY (not necessarily living together): Middle-aged parents (55-Sixty-Somethings), grandparents (70-Somethings), and great grandparents (90-Somethings). Does that describe any families you know?

Some older adults are in denial: “I’m not old and I DON’T need any housing changes or IN-home services!” Others may have housing issues, but can’t find local OR affordable solutions. In America, Europe, and Asia, 60-Something adult children now are learning about age-related housing issues from their 80- or 90-Something parents. Your UD Awareness Campaign could target all three older generations! We asked Harriet and Homer to describe this mega-market for UD as thoroughly as possible--but just a few pages.

A man and a women with snorkels
This 50-Something couple probably thinks that old age is AT LEAST 15 years older than they are now. Credit: AARP: The Magazine 2005.

Pre-Retirement Emptynesters (The Young-Old)

Homer (reading newspaper): "Harry, honey, did you know that the oldest Baby Boomers will hit 55 in 2006?! Many couples in their mid-Fifties are Empty-nesters at peak income level, still tied to one or two job sites. Since many have paid off their mortgages, they're great prospects for those ACTIVE Retirement Housing and Leisure Acres Clubs, i-i-i-if they're ready to move. Most are NOT!”

"Older adults who decide to move to retirement housing may find that uprooting their households to be easier to do EARLIER than later. WE might tempt them with our great location and energy-saving passive solar heating system. Maybe we also should convert to low-maintenance landscaping and lawn, underground sprinklers, and a security system linked to the police station. We COULD add basic wheelchair accessibility too, but I doubt that would appeal to the Emptynesters--unless it's invisible," muses Harriet.

Homer nods, "But a mature couple COULD use one of our extra bedrooms for visiting grandkids and make the other into a study. They'd be free to travel (leaving their valuables secure at home). Some active retirees are on the road FULLTIME in their RVs (with bumper stickers that say, “We’re spending our children’s inheritance!”). Or they might try other retirement interests right in this area. Is THAT A PLAN or what, Honey?"

Looking over her bifocals, Harriet replies: "Since us well-kept, middle-aged homes have smaller rooms, Emptynesters would have less home care and upkeep. They'd also have room for the antiques they're saving for the younger grandkids. When they sell their current, paid-off suburban castle, they might even pay cash to buy us! Now, THAT'S THE PLAN!!"

Quotable Quote: Universal, lifespan, and inclusive designs not only provide minimum basic access, but also approach environmental features and products broadly from a holistic viewpoint. These concepts can benefit everyone, NOT just the elderly or disabled (Mace, n. d.).

The Middle- and Old-Old: Living Together or Alone

Lauren Hutton flying above the motorcycle
Model Lauren Hutton in (age) “60 is the New 30,” AARP: The Magazine, 2003. Photo credit: Sante D’Orazio/Corbis Outline.
"Gee, Lambkin, if a couple of young retirees bought us, they (or a widow/er) could age in place safely and independently here till they're 95 or 100! If one spouse needs personal care, the other could provide it until s/he is ‘burned out’ or physically unable."

"You're right, Homie. But I question whether home-based care and services are available and affordable in this community, and we're equipped to provide care? What if our lack of accessible bathing facilities combines with a health catastrophe to force one spouse to move to a long-term care facility? If the other no longer drives, will s/he not only be home alone, but also stranded way across town from the ailing mate?"

"OK, so we get sold to a healthy active, 70-Something, modest-income widow. If she should become 'house-rich, but cash-poor,' she may qualify for a state property tax reduction for older homeowners. She might try sharing her home and expenses with another older woman. Or she could turn the basement into a rent-free apartment for a young adult in exchange for yard care, minor home repairs, and grocery shopping. Her increased feelings of safety and security would be a nice BONUS."

"If and when our widow is too frail to live alone but doesn't need full-time care or supervision, she may sell the house, move into housing-with-services (assisted living or an adult group home), and give her car to a teen-aged (great) grandchild. She probably wouldn't even have to pay capital gains tax on the profit from the house."

“Let's face it, Snookums, while not perfect, we're still in a location that has much to offer to home buyers of almost ANY age. If we can agree on a price that is affordable on a modest income, but gives US a tidy profit, we're outa here! We’ll get an RV, put the pedal to the metal, and live on the road fulltime ‘till we drop!"

Quotable Quote: We know we can't stop aging, but we can DESIGN for its effects. We may not be able to prevent a disabling accident or illness, but we CAN create an environment where we can function independently, even with a disability (Industrial designer, J. Mueller, 2003).

Faces of older women and an older couple


(How) can people know what to plan for so they can age in place safely and independently as long as possible? The answers lie in older adults' functional status, potential health concerns, and innovative assistive devices and enabling technologies. UD can "ride to the rescue!"

Activities of Daily Living and Functional Status

Functional status is measured by testing a person's ability to do their Activities of Daily Living (ADLs, including eating, grooming, dressing, toileting, and mobility) without help or supervision. Instrumental ADLs such as preparing meals, shopping, housekeeping, and handling their finances, are also essential. If available and affordable, home-delivered services that help older adults with their (I)ADLs can help them live independently--longer.

When an older person has problems doing personal and household chores, health professionals may use functional assessment tools to determine which (I)ADLs are affected, how, and to what degree. The results form the major bases of individual care management plans for older people whose (often chronic) health conditions threaten their ability to live independently.

Knowing the common chronic health conditions among older adults is important because they ALL have consequences related to independent living. Study both sides of your family tree to find those that ‘run’ in the family. The most common PHYSICAL conditions in old age are arthritis, sensory limits, heart disease, and orthopedic problems. The resulting functional limits are: low vision, hearing loss, limited hand, arm, or leg strength, flexibility, reach, or mobility (INability to transfer [move] from one place to another).

A man getting out of car using a handle A women using a bar to move around a toilet Cushioned car seat A man getting out of car using an attached door stripe
Transfer aids: To get up and out safely without personal assistance: Push down, pull up, rotate, or grab and turn.
Credit: Dynamic-Living.com

Chronic MENTAL conditions found most frequently among the elderly are cognitive limits (thinking) and dementia. Although types of dementia are more likely, people often think first of Alzheimer's disease. Obvious signs of mental conditions are severe memory loss, confusion, and disorientation. Older people who have BOTH chronic physical problems AND cognitive losses ('excess disabilities') are likely to face MAJOR challenges to independent living.

Among OLDER Americans, the DISEASES that cause the highest numbers of deaths are cancer, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (emphysema), stroke, and diabetes (National Center for Health…2004). Seniors’ highest ACCIDENTAL DEATH RATES result from falls and fires, MOST OFTEN AT HOME. Other accidents are related to personal frailty or LACK OF HOME SAFETY FEATURES (National Safety Council, 2004).

Even in terminal situations, Universal Design features and home modifications may allow an older person to remain at home. In the final months, patients (especially those with cancer) may receive hospice care at home in a familiar, non-medical setting, surrounded by family and friends.

Environmental changes or losses are likely to occur after the death of a spouse, especially if the remaining partner must move to a care facility. If in-home caregivers or home-delivered services cannot substitute for the ‘built-in help’ that the mate had provided, having to move can be AS upsetting AS the initial grief.

Older people's FALLS most often happen in their bathrooms. American bathrooms are INfamous for their hard, slippery-when-wet surfaces, poor lighting, and NO grab bars. Remote TV/VCR controls not only avoid falls that result from standing up too fast, but they also conserve the older user’s persona energy. In northern climates, the icy entry steps that scare some older adults into becoming homebound in winter also reduce their potential for disability or pneumonia.

Most FIRE deaths result from SMOKE inhalation. Older adults may fall asleep with a lit cigarette on a NON-fire resistant upholstered chair or mattress. The home's smoke alarm battery may be dead, or the alarm may not be loud enough to alert a resident who is hard of hearing. Smoke detectors with flashing lights are available.

Accidental deaths from falls and fires ARE preventable. A universally-designed home is fall-safe because it has NO-step entries, living areas on one level, and non-slip bathrooms. Single homes and apartments that are less than 25 years old have more fire prevention features than pre-Fifties dwellings because local building and life safety code requirements are constantly rising.

Flame-resistant upholstery fabrics and mattress covers also are now required on NEW home furnishings. But whether the home is a new or a dilapidated old structure, the HUMAN ELEMENT is key: SOMEONE must remember to change the smoke detector batteries, recharge the home fire extinguisher, OR stop smoking.

Card dealer and various reachers
Automatic Card Shuffler and Reach Extender: Up or Down

Assistive Devices = Preventive Medicine

UD features that eliminate the need to bend, stoop, grasp, or stand to work for long periods may serve as preventive medicine. Whether Seniors "stay put" or move to assisted living or care facilities, inexpensive assistive devices (e.g., large-handled eating utensils) can help keep their independence.

A web site devoted to Aging in Place lists Top 10 Great Gadgets--most are universally-designed and usable by people of any age and ability level. Dig up your Lesson 1 UD Principles and CLICK here to identify which gadgets pass the UD test.

Touch base lamps don’t need fingers to turn them on. Large key telephones and large-handled, cushion-grip utensils are more comfortable and easy to use with stiff fingers, AND the large phone keys aid failing eyesight. Similarly, magnifying mirrors help put on one’s best face despite low vision.

Magnetic locks keep cabinet and drawer contents safe from children and pets. Hand-held, height-adjustable shower heads on glide bars fit bathers' reaches and ranges of motion. Lever door handles and rocker light switches can be operated with an elbow. Light switches and electrical outlets can be installed at heights reachable while standing OR sitting, with color-contrasted backgrounds for better visibility.

A set of modern phones


In the year 2030, the LAST of the 76 million American Baby Boomers will hit 65. By then, 40% of U.S. households will include a DEPENDENT adult (Fox, 2003). BUT WAIT! If gene therapy and stem cell transplants succeed, the Boomers (and YOU) may live to at least age 100+!

Various forecasts suggest that Boomers will insist on a technology-aided, active, and PRODUCTIVE old age. If so, their later years are sure to include new "gero-technology tools" that can minimize the frailties of old age.

The diverse future opportunities in "high-tech living environments for older adults" could be a great term paper! Use search words as specific as "the wired rest home" that INcreases its residents' autonomy. Imagine a residential facility where 100-year-olds are connected in every way possible in a place where everything (from floor to ceiling, plus outdoor areas) is alert to the occupants' needs.

Oatfields Estate, a wired facility, opened in the year 2000 in a suburb south of Portland, Oregon. At Oatfields, programmable logic controllers record residents' every move (Fox, 2003). Touch-screen personal computers can monitor residents' vital signs from the living room--when they're not web surfing... In addition to super-improved internal monitors (e.g., pace-makers), Oatfields may use video monitoring, motion and weight detectors, and location tracking networks.

Beds, floors, and toilet seats may sense movement, changes in weight, an abnormal gait, and falls. In automatic response, the bathroom light will turn on/off, and the computer will locate a wandering or fallen resident. They may even detect early internal symptoms of disease. Fox reported, however, that the high cost AND people’s cultural AVOIDANCE of 'keeping your freedom by surrendering your privacy' continue to be obstacles to widespread development of facilities like Oatfields.

Traditionally, adult daughters cared for their frail parents, but the vast majority of today’s potential caregivers are employed OUTSIDE the home. The U. S. also has a national shortage of trained nursing and personal care assistants. Often, mature family members (including spouses) who care for older relatives at home become so stressed that they lose their own health. All of the above are leading to high-tech solutions—but will they also be “high touch” with healthy amounts of human contact?

If the description above "rang your chimes," you may want to search for high-tech developments already available to help older adults live independently much longer than earlier generations. The Aware Home at Georgia Tech offers a peek at seeing-eye walkers, smart undershirts, the Aware Home, Information Technology, and more. How about a furry robotic caregiver to assist you when you’re 100 and living in a care facility? (see Lesson 6)
Dachshund going up the rampA black lab coming down on rampA pug coming down ramp
Our pets grow old with us, and may need a helping hand. Credit:

We hope this lesson didn't make you worry about aging. You're ALREADY AGING—it started when you were born. It's an inevitable, but exciting great new adventure!

If you want to feel "old before your time," imagine using the Ford Motor Company's "Third Age Suit" that was developed to help their young automotive designers understand the effects of aging before they make the mistake of creating cars that old folks canNOT get INTO or OUT of….

With your classmates and friends, discuss any auto design changes you’ve noticed in the past year or so that probably are geared to the car-buying older adult population (how and why?)..


  1. ANALYZE 'LIFETIME LIVING' HOME PLAN: Evaluate a single-family floorplan, area by area (living, sleeping, and service), including specific UD features that could make the aging process easier as families move through the life cycle from newlyweds to a widow/er living there alone. Feel free to choose a large plan since many homebuyers seem to feel that Bigger is Better. Decide whether you think that's true for this home. CLICK HERE for a sample floor plan you can study.

  2. PROBLEM-SOLVING: Given American's tendencies to think that the Technology Bailout will solve society's great problems, brainstorm both positive AND negative responses to the following question:

    By the year 3000 (your lifetime and part of your children's) will health advances and/or high gero-technology make our current types of long-term care (nursing home) facilities for older adults obsolete and unnecessary? Why/not? If so, how?

    It's not a trick question—it could happen! We suggest that you NOT try to "wing it" on THIS question. Surf up some ideas by starting with optional LINKS from this lesson (which hopefully will lead to other useful Links).

  3. FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Do think you’ll see cures for cancer and heart disease during your lifetime? Will hearing and vision losses become "history" by then? If so, (how) would these events affect your future ability to continue to live independently to a good old age? Consider what your home might be like in the year 2100—it may be radically different from the traditional single-family dwelling on its own lot. How so? Maybe now’s the time to try out a recent and relevant ‘Sims’ game?

Introducing our Dude with a Disability.
Dude in Wheelchair
Temporarily-grounded Dude with a Disability ("DD") must sleep in the LIVING ROOM for 3 months! 3-wheel scooters are NO WAY to practice driver’s ed…

Set of logos displaying different categories of people

Continue to Lesson 3