Artificial environments and an aging population: designing for age-related functional losses.

Over the past century there has been a large and continuing increase in the frequency of persons aged over 65 years; particularly those aged over 100 years. During the 21st century the number of persons over 100 years will continue to increase. This will occur at such a rapid rate that the 21st century may one day be called the century of centenarians. Frailty and disability secondary to senescence, disease, and trauma have accompanied old age (often defined as age 65 and over) as far back as recorded history. However, during the 20th century, age, frailty, disability, and chronic degenerative diseases have been decoupled to some extant in the most long-lived human populations. Until recently, there was little need to design artificial environments for the unique needs of the elderly due to their low representation in most national populations. Today that need is increasing in concert with the number of persons aged 65 and older. The purpose of this review is to suggest areas wherein physiological anthropologists may have an opportunity to contribute to design trends for this rapidly increasing aging population. Major considerations for design of environments for the elderly are based upon altering the environment to accommodate their declining visual, auditory, and kinesthetic senses, thereby enhancing their declining faculties and improving their autonomy, independence, and self perceptions of well-being. To date most design considerations have been directed toward improving environments for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or residing within assisted living facilities. Many such design improvements also may be effective in improving life satisfaction and functional abilities of the non-institutionalized elderly.