Assisted Living Design Should Be More Gender-Neutral

By Michelle Seitzer / Posted on 08 November 2011

In August, Pam Gerhardt’s fantastic Washington Post article brought this important issue to light. After visiting several communities with her father, she took the assisted living industry to task, advising providers to examine programming and design elements (i.e. background music, window treatments, wall art, available community spaces, activity offerings, etc.) and seek a more balanced approach, as most primarily favored females.

Yes, there are more women in assisted living (as per our coverage of the subject, 26% of assisted living residents are men), but a putting green is not enough. Besides, it’s not just about those who live there, visitors also need to feel comfortable. Perhaps a teenage grandson would be more apt to visit Granddad if they could watch their favorite team on the community pub’s flat screen, rather than joining him for arts & crafts in the lovely rose-colored multi-purpose room?

As more communities consider universal design elements (design that supports aging in place), they should also reflect on ways to incorporate interests and aesthetics that appeal to both genders, rather than just one. Likewise, embracing a variety of interior design styles is a good idea too: Gerhardt suggests artwork from all genres instead of pastels only. How about a community living room with a sleek, modern feel instead of another Victorian-esque parlor? Assisted living communities of the future must think outside the gender box.

Your turn: What suggestions would you offer to make assisted living more gender-neutral?

There are 4 Comments about this post

  1. Kaye Swain says,

    What a wise idea. I’d never thought about it before but you’re right – my two favorite residences of all the ones I’ve visited were “pretty.” Which is definitely better than being “clinical” or boring like some others I’ve been to. But with simple tweaks, they could easily have appealed to both men and women. Thanks for the great food for thought!


    on 09 November 2011 / 1:09 PM

  2. Thanks for your comments, Kaye! I’m always glad to know that my posts give people food for thought. I completely agree that pretty is far better than clinical or boring, and of course there are some men (and women) who don’t really care about aesthetics at all, but either way, it’s important to make sure everything (the atmosphere, the physical environment, the programming) reaches both sexes. Thanks for stopping by the blog!


    on 09 November 2011 / 1:20 PM

  3. Michelle, you bring up an excellent and valid point about current assisted living design. There is indeed a softer, more aesthetically pleasing slant to ALF design which appeals to the larger female community and also to the non-resident decision makers. While it would be nice to incorporate physical plant changes which would promote gender neutrality, I think that such changes may be practically and economically difficult for providers in today’s environment. I would advocate diversification of facility programming to include more male oriented activities. For example, poker nights (chips only of course-no real money exchanging hands!) or Monday Night Football with snacks and refreshments. These programs and more encourage male participation as well as socialization, which as we all know is a vital benefit in assisted living.


    on 09 November 2011 / 2:46 PM

  4. Thanks for your comments, Craig. It’s a good point — perhaps it doesn’t have to be major physical changes though, just a few simple things like diversifying the artwork on the walls or the patterns/colors of couches/armchairs that need to be replaced could make a difference. But you’re absolutely right about including more male-oriented activities (hey, even some women would probably enjoy poker or football night). Increased socialization and participation = definitely a vital outcome.


    on 09 November 2011 / 7:03 PM


Do you have something to say?