basic human needs, as in food, clothing, and shelter. Across the life span, however, living environment, or home, takes on great personal meaning. This meaning may reflect the attainment, or lack thereof, of any of a number of different dimensions, including status and achievement (e.g., home ownership), responsibility (e.g., maintaining a family home), security (e.g., safety), and autonomy and privacy (e.g., personal choice and freedom). These different aspects of housing may take on different salience throughout an individual′s life span. At the end of life, independence, autonomy, and safety are especially relevant. Older adults strive to maintain their independence and autonomy in a safe living environment. In addition to personal meaning, living environments have societal and political relevance as well. These include issues of affordability, adequacy, accessibility, and appropriateness of housing (Maddox, 2001). Thus, living environments are a critical issue for older adults, and for our society, as America ages.

There are three main types of living environments for aging adults that we discuss: independent living (e.g., private housing), assisted living, and nursing homes. According to the census of 2000, approximately 95 percent of adults aged 65 and older reside in private households (Cohen and Miller, 2000). These data also point out that the number of elders who maintain a private household declines across age groups. In addition, the proportion of elders who live alone increases across successive age groups and varies markedly by sex (see Figure 9-1). Among those aged 85+, the

FIGURE 9-1 Percent of older adults living alone in the United States, by age group.

SOURCE: Kinsella and Velkoff (2001, p. 66).



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement