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A History of Senior Living

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Human beings are a wonderfully connected species. We’ve evolved over a long time, and we’re constantly taking care of each other. Now, whether a person is getting older, has a physical impairment, or is experiencing almost any other kind of problem, there’s likely a solution.

For older adults in need of help, senior living can offer care, support, and love. Older adults can receive a high level of care from trained caregivers in specialized communities designed specifically to cater to their needs. We’ve come a long way from the early days of settling in this country, and we’re constantly improving how we care for our seniors.

But how did we get here? What is the history of senior living?

The Importance of Senior Living Communities

Human beings are incredibly social. And one important thing that sets us apart is how we care for each other.

For many species, old age can pose unique challenges. Hunting, finding food and shelter, flying, running—it all becomes more difficult. But for humans, old age is the first step to a new journey—we can continue living our lives without the hustle and bustle of our younger years. We may no longer need to work every day and often have more time for our hobbies.

All of this is due to how we take care of our seniors. Instead of discarding them, we take care of them. We support them where we can, have modernized healthcare, and take every step to show our older loved ones as much love and support as possible. They can pass their wisdom at every step and help the next generation make leaps and strides.

Much of this is due to senior care. And one of the biggest boosts to senior care? The development of senior living communities.

The Types of Senior Living Communities

Senior living communities are communities designed specifically for older adults who need some help here and there. There are several types of communities, including:

  • Assisted living: For older adults in need of some daily assistance
  • Memory care: For older adults experiencing cognitive decline or memory impairment
  • Nursing homes: For older adults in need of advanced medical care
  • Respite care: A short-term solution for caregivers in need of a break or older adults recovering from recent illness or surgery

The History of Senior Living: Pre-1800s

Before the 1800s, older adults were primarily cared for by their families. When it was needed and when it was possible, the community would help. In the United States’ earliest days, healthcare hadn’t advanced very far.

There were no communities where older adults could live with constant support outside the family home, though religious institutions like monasteries and churches would help provide care in many situations.

The 1900s

In the 1900s, the United States was involved in 2 massive global conflicts and several smaller—though still large-scale—wars. More than 20 million Americans participated in active duty, and many suffered extreme medical consequences due to World War I and World War II.

Alongside these tragic conflicts, the Great Depression occurred in the 1930s, leading to massive economic shifts and a significant decline in living conditions for millions of people. It was clear that something had to change.

Additionally, once the conflicts had ended, a significant portion of the population had lifelong medical conditions that required advanced care. The United States government rolled out early pension programs to help sustain veterans and older adults, and some charitable organizations like the Veterans Bureau helped support soldiers financially.

This made it easier to seek medical support later in life, as veterans experiencing lifelong damage from war could financially afford potential care from healthcare professionals. However, while nursing homes began sprouting across the country to meet this new market, they were few and far between.

The 1940s

In 1946, a bill was passed: the Hill-Burton Act. This provided grants and additional funding for nursing homes to be built alongside, near, and inside hospitals while allowing the government control over building and regulating these homes.

The government decided that any housing or community specifically supporting older adults should focus most of its efforts on providing medical care. This relieved the welfare system as many older adults could suddenly access medical care more easily than before.


In 1965, the United States government announced Medicare and Medicaid, which played a vital role in the rise of senior living communities. Now, many seniors who previously could not afford care could do so. Low-income seniors across the country suddenly could pay for specialized care to stay healthy in their older years.

Many different senior living communities suddenly developed rapidly to meet this need. They were called by many names, including:

  • Boarding homes
  • Board and care homes
  • Retirement homes
  • Adult care homes
  • Retirement homes

The demand continued growing rapidly, as did the industry. Suddenly, communities were developed to help seniors meet new people, eat healthy food, and have their own homes.

However, while this was extremely helpful for many older adults, the industry wasn’t fully regulated. This would change in the 1980s.

The 1980s

In the 1980s, the country faced a recession—suddenly, new industries needed to adapt and change or be left to history. Real estate developers were struggling to maintain nursing homes and boarding facilities.

This led to the shift to a more home-like environment. Rather than focusing on providing medical care with some luxury, why not try to provide an actual home? Instead of treating the experience like a hotel full of amenities, developers began creating communities that could provide a certain level of care and support while making the community feel like a home.

Then, a large change happened due to one Dr. Keren Brown Wilson.

Dr. Keren Brown Wilson

In 1983, the country’s first modern assisted living community opened its doors to the public. Dr. Keren Brown Wilson wanted to create a place where older adults could live independently. Rather than simply treating older adults for a disability or medical condition, the community adapted around them.

Wilson was inspired to do this due to her history with her mother. When Wilson was 19, her mother suffered a stroke at the age of 55, leaving her partially paralyzed for the rest of her life. Wilson became inspired by the idea of creating a home for people like her mother—where residents could be supported by a team of caregivers and encouraged to live independently where they could.

Since then, Wilson has built over 184 residences in 18 states. She pioneered the term “assisted living,” which is now used by developers all over the globe.

The 2000s

Since Wilson’s community opened, thousands of assisted living communities across the United States have opened. The modern-day assisted living community has evolved and adapted since Wilson’s first community. Still, it largely remains based on a similar principle: encouraging older adults to be independent while supporting them where possible.

Because of the evolution of senior living communities, older adults can now receive support for all kinds of conditions. Mobility problems, memory impairment, cognitive decline, severe medical conditions—there are communities in every state that can help older adults maintain a good quality of life.

Fox Trail Memory Care Living

At Fox Trail Memory Care, we believe in supporting every one of our residents. We want to bring joy to every resident in our community, no matter their needs. We’re happy with the part we’re playing in supporting our seniors. If you have an older loved one in need, request a tour at one of our New Jersey memory care communities today; we’re here to help.

Written by adminfoxtrail

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