skip to main content columnskip to left navigation

ETSU Main Department Name

School Name

Study: Assisted living options for aging population

Thursday, November 06, 2008JOHNSON CITY—The oldest baby boomers are now in their early sixties, and, in the years ahead, members of that generation will require assisted living options. Those “boomers” will want to take their technology and comforts with them to their new homes and may want services available that are not now standard in the industry.

Sharon Becker, an assistant professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at East Tennessee State University, is involved in a study to design facilities that will accommodate this aging population.

“Many of us may have witnessed some of the inadequacies of the nursing home system through visiting a loved one,” Becker says. “We didn’t enjoy the experience and would prefer to live out our final days in a different manner. This study is being conducted in the hope of improving the elderly living environment for generations to come.”

Participants in the study must be baby boomers with an awareness of elderly care options or who are or have been a caregiver for an elderly person. They are asked to design an efficient, comfortable living space — one they would consider acceptable for themselves someday.

Students in the “Health Care” class for interior design majors created scale model walls, windows and doorways along with a wide variety of bedroom, living room, kitchen and bathroom fixtures, furniture, appliances, and accessories — even tiny vases of flowers.

Participants are asked to construct three models — a living unit sharing a common bathroom, a studio apartment, and a one-bedroom apartment — all for people in their 80s who are presumed to be in reasonably good health but requiring assistance with such needs as bathing and medication distribution.

The long-term study, now in its third year, can help determine what modifications of existing facilities will be necessary to make “boomers” feel at home. For instance, unlike many of today’s assisted living residents, those of the future may insist on cell phones, DVD players, computers, microwaves and even PDAs.

Once a participant has completed a model, students carefully record measurements and configurations while taking photographs to show the placement of furniture, including artwork for the walls and perhaps a flat screen television.

“The study is valuable to students on many levels,” says Becker. “They participate in interior design research, compile a scholarly journal article based on their group data, and ‘create’ an assisted living facility based on the collected findings as a final project.”

Participants complete a survey for each model, and then they answer an overall questionnaire to explain what services and community features they would like to find outside the dwelling. And, perhaps the information they provide will contribute to their own satisfactory living situation during their “golden years.”

Anyone born between 1946 and 1964 who wishes to serve as a participant in the study is invited to contact Becker at (423) 439-7553 or

icon for left menu icon for right menu