How Senior Living Has Evolved Over the Years

The Start of Almshouses (Medieval-Early 19th Century)

From the medieval period up until the early 19th century, some seniors who didn’t live with family lived in what were known as almshouses. These were religiously backed institutions where the elderly, poor, sick and people with mental or physical disabilities were cared for. The oldest almshouse foundation still in existence is thought to be the Hospital of St. Oswald in Worcester, founded around 990.

English settlers brought the concept of almshouses to the U.S., where they were needed after the displacement of older adults during the Industrial Revolution and Civil War. The conditions in almshouses were generally undesirable and in need of stricter guidelines.

Social Security Act (1935)

Before the 1930s, support for seniors was a local, state, and family matter rather than a federal concern. However, providing support to older adults displaced by the Great Depression got the attention of the federal government. In 1935, the Social Security Act, which was designed to provide, among other things, financial support to seniors, was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Two of the programs created in this legislation protected seniors. Old Age Assistance (OAA) helped low-income elderly. Old Age Insurance (OAI) assisted retired workers and would come to be commonly known as Social Security. These programs put into place a social welfare system that protected older adults for decades to come.

The Rise of Assisted Living (1970s-1980s)

In the mid-1970s, one woman changed the face of modern assisted living. Dr. Keren Brown Wilson is known as the “mother” of modern assisted living facilities. At the time, her mother had a stroke and needed a place to get care. As a result, Dr. Wilson took a look at the reasons nursing homes were viewed by some as negative or institutional places.

“Nursing homes were really stripped-down hospitals. People were in a ward. They were literally in a bed,” said Wilson. “They were told when to go to bed. They were told when to get up. They were told what to eat … they really had no autonomy. They had no say in their lives. And that was very dehumanizing.”

Dr. Wilson wanted to create a way for seniors to live independently and with respect while also being able to receive a high level of care. In 1981, she opened what many consider the first modern assisted living facility.

Modern Assisted Living (1980s-Present)

In recent years, assisted living has evolved into modern senior living communities. Now, seniors can receive a level of care that provides them independence as well as comfort and style.

Facility owners and architects have re-imagined what a senior care facility could be. Communities are designed to reflect a modern living environment with movie theatres, Wi-Fi, salons and flat-screen TVs. This new generation of care is the future of modern senior living.

Brookdale has been a leader in the space for over 40 years. Want to find out more about life at Brookdale? Learn more here.

senior living infographic