Barry Berman, president of the Chelsea (Mass.) Jewish Foundation, had run assisted-living facilities and nursing homes for 23 years when he moved his mother into one.

Two days after she arrived, Berman found her dramatically different than he had ever seen her: “I said, ‘Oh, my God, there’s my mother, this old woman, in a wheelchair, lifeless. Look what my own nursing home did to my own mother in a matter of days.’ ”

Berman moved his mother home, got her private care and began a multiyear project to build a new and better residence for elderly people. That facility, the Leonard Florence Center for Living, opened in 2010. He hopes that over time it will help change the entire nursing home industry.

That’s the anecdote with which Alana Semuels begins an examination of creative options for the fast-aging American population in “A Better Nursing Home Exists,” on the Atlantic magazine’s Web site. Most of the article deals with something Berman came across as he researched nursing homes: the Green House Project, started in 2000 by a New York doctor. There are 173 of these homes around the country, each with 10 to 12 private bedrooms with baths, arranged around a common living and dining area that looks like a home instead of an institution. The primary caregivers are certified nurse assistants who also handle some food preparation, housekeeping and activities. Studies have shown that residents of these houses are healthier and happier than those in traditional nursing homes.

“So the question at this point,” Semuels writes, “isn’t so much what do good nursing homes look like, but how do you transform the existing institutions into places that look like them?” With one-third of the U.S. population likely to be over 65 by 2050, it’s a question that needs some consideration.