At the Scottish Centre for Environmental Design Research ('SEARCH') in Aberdeen, Scotland, research on environments for elderly people has focused on housing in small, rural communities. Such communities have a number of features which have commended a move away from 'special needs' provision and towards a 'universal' approach to the design of 'lifetime homes'. Most western societies face a crisis in social housing as the proportion of small households composed of elderly people rises dramatically and is set to rise further. In this context such rural communities are, in a sense, ahead of the field. The 'SEARCH' presentation summarises the research done on housing for elderly people in rural Scotland and presents the subsequent practical design results of this research, in the form of houses being developed as part of the Scottish Rural House Demonstration Centre. The opportunities for a deeper understanding of the requirements of environments responsive to the needs of people with disability, arising from this demonstration project, are highlighted. The implications of this work in relation to the care of people with dementia will also be discussed. It goes on to suggest that, whilst building designers need a greater appreciation of the particular requirements of housing for people with dementia, the future lies in flexible, adaptable, lifetime homes which can respond to the changing needs of people, rather than in institutional, 'special needs' housing provision.