Baby Boomers' Dwellings Become Impressive "Control Centers" - But Not Ideal For All


Living to a ripe old age has its downsides. After entering their mid-60s and beyond, older people are at greater risk of experiencing various personal setbacks.

Mobility limitations, chronic health problems, less physical energy, memory issues, and boredom are more likely. Spousal divorces and deaths result in higher numbers living alone and experiencing increased social isolation and loneliness.

But life span psychologists tell us that most older people are quite resilient. They have the ability to cope constructively with these undesirable life events. They are able to take adaptive actions and bounce back from their misfortunes. For example:

  • They try to better detect, treat and manage their health problems.
  • They look for alternative ways to perform self-care tasks and become more mobile.
  • They change how they access their daily shopping and other essential needs.
  • They try to make their surroundings more compatible with their limitations.
  • They explore new ways to actively engage with their social worlds and enjoy rewarding intellectual and leisure pursuits.

In so doing, they strive to regain control of their lives and to feel positive about themselves.

Such responses are especially characteristic of older baby boomers. This is a generation distinguished by their self-reliant values and strong beliefs in their ability to get things done.

Where Will Older People Most Likely Feel In Control?

But some older boomers cope more successfully than others. Why does this happen?

Where they live can make a significant difference. Not all places of residence offer equal opportunities or resources enabling older people to deal with their problems.

Ideally, older people need to live in locations that help to alleviate their stress, fulfill their needs, support their capabilities, maintain their social connections, and nurture their individual achievement and dignity.

But what places of residence are capable of meeting all these needs?

To better understand this, we need to recognize that people of all ages live in six distinctive settings simultaneously:

  1. Dwelling: this is the occupied physical structure, including the rooms, interior spaces, and contents of the owned residence, condominium unit, rental apartment, or manufactured home.
  2. Dwelling vicinity: this encompasses the adjacent dwellings, buildings, apartments, hallways, and common areas; or the physical/natural areas surrounding the dwelling, which are in hearing or seeing range
  3. Neighborhood: this includes the dwellings, commercial areas, and other land uses typically within walking or very short driving distance of the dwelling vicinity
  4. Community: this is the surrounding physical area often referred to as cities, suburbs, towns, villages, or rural areas.
  5. State, province: this is the administrative unit that typically manages political decisions and actions within its boundaries
  6. Nation: this is the country, such as the United States or Canada, where the person resides

Dwellings: Where Territorial Control is Maximized

I believe that older people's dwellings are the most relevant residential environments in their lives. Inside their own four walls, they can take actions to constructively manage or tolerate those late-life misfortunes. Here, they can age optimally—the best way they can.

So why single out dwellings as opposed to the other five places?

The key is how older people budget their time. One way they cope with their adverse personal circumstances is to restrict their "outside" activities. Their dwelling then becomes the primary arena in which they conduct and control their lives.

Their retirements often had similar effects. Older people often reduced the time they spent outside their dwellings when they transitioned from full-time paid work to part-time employment, volunteering, intellectual pursuits, or leisure-oriented activities.

Environmental psychologists also help us understand the dwelling's greater importance. Because of the relatively small, well-defined, and enclosed spaces of their homes, older people feel they have territorial control. Here, their behaviors and experiences are familiar, predictable, and positive. Here they are masters of their own personal space.

Read the rest of this post at Booming Encore. This excerpt has been reprinted with permission.

Stephen M. Golant, Ph.D., is a leading national speaker, author, and researcher on the housing, mobility, transportation, and long-term care needs of older adult populations. He is a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America, a Fulbright Senior Scholar award recipient, and Professor Emeritus at the University of Florida. Golant’s latest book is Aging in The Right Place, published by Health Professions Press. Contact him at