Rethinking the assisted-living model

Senior housing should be place to play, not die

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Earlier this year, Steve Gurney was filling out an application for a small apartment. One of the things his new landlord wanted to know was which funeral home to contact if he died. Gurney wasn't moving into an ordinary apartment -- he was going to an assisted-living facility, where the units usually are occupied by older people who aren't terribly sick but nonetheless need help with day-to-day activities. Gurney isn't elderly -- he's 43, married and has two children. He's in good health. Nonetheless, he was checking into an assisted-living community -- though for only a week -- to catch a glimpse of the experience that has become such a routine part of life for older people in America. He did it because he had realized there was a huge gap in his knowledge, even though he had made a career of advising families on housing and care arrangements for older Americans. "I was taking my kids to their first day of school a year ago," Gurney said. "They started askin...