Age-friendly living for a 50+ Barbie

I have it on good authority, Barbie is aging. I saw a Web-based graphic ( of a graying Barbie doll with subtle wrinkles and pronounced pouches under her sparkling blue eyes. It was a little unsettling.

But get this. The newest "Architect Barbie" has an eco-friendly dream house with a low-flow toilet and a greenhouse on the roof. To Mattel's credit, she will reside in a more environmentally defensible but still very dreamy home.

It's definitely a start in the right direction, but the toy makers have not yet embraced the concept of age-friendly living for a 50+ Barbie. They might need to look at the concept of "universal access," in which a home's design focuses on how people actually use the space they live in.

I have an idea. Maybe Mattel could start thinking about a "Gerontologist Barbie" who educates children and entire families about the joys of aging-in-place. Gerontologist Barbie's next house could be age-friendly as well as eco-friendly.

It would have abundant ambient, task and accent lighting. There would be wide doorways and levered door handles on all the doors — interior and exterior. Actually, these are the kind of houses that work well at any age.

We are overdue to think about aging-in-place more realistically. Many of the houses we live in, not just Barbie's, are referred to as "Peter Pan houses" — "homes designed for people who are never going to grow up and never going to grow old."

The original Barbie dream house was marketed in 1960; there are a series of videos that track how these houses have evolved over the years. In the beginning it was largely "glamour and furniture" with lots of poodles, pools and impressive circular staircases. The houses have changed through the decades to "mirror social and cultural transformations."

The designers really step out with this most recent version. The impetus behind this appears to be the American Institute of Architects, which offered up a dream house with solar panels, bamboo flooring and bathroom fixtures made from locally sourced materials.

But the house that an aging Barbie really needs would feature one-level living with a no-step entry. The bathroom, bedroom, kitchen and laundry would all be on the main floor. It would have 36-inch doors with offset hinges.

In the spacious bathroom, there would be hand-held shower heads, grab bars and those comfort-height toilets we don't talk about much.

It would be a dreamy house with not a hint of institutionalized living.

The pink convertible? That could be optional.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at

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