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In most periods throughout history, it was believed that the elderly could be divided into distinct groups, for whom a particular kind of housing was most suitable. As they got older or their health deteriorated, they would move to a different kind of accommodation. It was customary for a pensioner to live initially in sheltered housing, then to move to a retirement home when they developed mental or physical disabilities and to spend their final years in a nursing home. This division of the elderly into categories is based on a perfect analogy between type of pensioner and type of housing.

For a long time it was also the dominant view that the elderly require care and can no longer make a contribution to society. Only the young, healthy section of the population is productive. It is they who care for the elderly and decide what is best for them. In the history of housing for the elderly, this view of old age was only intermittently confronted with more flexible alternatives based on reciprocal relationships between the old and the young. Illustrative of this vision is the publication The City of the Future, The Future of the City (1946) by A. Bos. This ideological defence of the importance of community attributes an active role to the elderly within neighbourhoods. The older generation can use their life experience to put conflicts into perspective and can relieve tensions between parents and children. This role presupposes that the elderly continue to live in the community until an advanced age, albeit in special housing with access to communal facilities and support.