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Universal Design: A Step toward Successful Aging

DOI: 10.1155/2013/324624

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The concept of aging successfully has become increasingly important as demographics shift towards an aging population. Successful aging has been defined to include (1) a low probability of disease and disease-related disability; (2) a high level of physical and cognitive functioning; and (3) an active engagement in life. The built environment can create opportunities or constraints for seniors to participate in social and productive activities. Universally designed spaces are more easily accessed and used by a spectrum of people without specialized adaptations. Thus, a universally designed environment creates opportunities for older adults to participate in these activities without the stigmatization associated with adapted or accessible designs. Providing older adults with specific universal design options (e.g., lever handle faucets) has the potential to increase the ease of completing activities of daily living, which promotes a continual engagement in life. Literature regarding universal design is promising; however, its theory requires further attention from professionals designing the built environment, evidence of the significance of its application from academics, and the embracement of its core principles from society. Overall, universal design has the potential to provide a stepping stone toward successful aging. 1. Introduction A rise in life expectancy and a decline in fertility rates have created a shift in demographics leading to an aging population [1–4]. Currently, Canada’s population of citizens 65 years of age and older is at a record high (14.8%; [3]). This older adult population has experienced a 14.1% growth in the past five years, with 60–64 year olds experiencing the greatest increase, followed by centenarians [3]. If this trend continues, seniors will account for nearly a quarter of the population by 2036 [4]. At that point, the number of older adults will surpass the number of children, a first in Canadian history [4]. These demographic trends span beyond Canadian borders and have been recognized globally [1]. As a result, successful aging has become an important concept worldwide [5]. Successful aging has been empirically defined to include (1) a low probability of disease and disease-related disability; (2) a high level of physical and cognitive functioning; and (3) an active engagement in life [6, 7]. To some extent, these components represent a hierarchical relationship, as it is suggested that the absence of disease and disability leads to a prolonged maintenance of physical and cognitive functioning, which enables a higher

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