Assisted Living Design May Be Too Female-Oriented, Some Say

A recent article in The Washington Post offers tips for making assisted living design more appealing to men, which suggests that current design is often female-oriented, including floral wallpaper, crystal chandeliers and pastel art. It makes sense because, on average, women typically live longer than men–about five or six years longer. By the age of 100, the ratio of women to men is about two to one, according to Assisted living design

Because women have a longer average life expectancy, it’s not uncommon to find women comprising a larger percentage of residents in assisted living, independent living and nursing homes. Naturally, senior living providers want to appeal to the broadest proportion of their target population, so feminine decor seems logical. This trend may be changing, however, as a recent census brief, “Age and Sex Composition: 2010” shows that the male population in the 60-plus demographic is growing faster than the same group of women, as McKnight’s Long Term Care News reported this week.

The functional design of assisted living homes is an often-discussed topic, as design technologies emerge that enable residents to remain more independent or ease stress for those with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. Open floor plans, color coordination to signal certain areas and safe bathroom design with ample handles for grasping and walk-in showers certainly make senior living more comfortable, but don’t necessarily aim to appeal to residents’ sense of style.

Person-Centered Assisted Living Design Remains the Focus

To accommodate the growing male aging population, new design trends are emerging that nix the traditional mauve-and-floral themes that were once sure to be found by walking into any assisted living facility across the country. Today’s assisted living designs combine both style and function by utilizing best accessibility accommodations and safety standards while incorporating modern design themes. Gone are the flowered walls, replaced by self-serve kitchens with granite countertops and slate tile, common areas with comfortable and modern furniture, flat-screen televisions and gaming systems, and efforts to incorporate the outdoors into daily living–both inside and out.

Landscape design and courtyards are now regarded as an element equally as important as functional indoor living space. Residents often participate in the design by using their gardening skills or expressing their preferences for outdoor activities (cricket, anyone?). Instead of focusing solely on efficiency of providing care, design is now increasingly person-oriented, with the aim of creating a home-like atmosphere for residents. Instead of walking from personal quarters into a corridor, residents should feel as though they’re entering a living room in their own home.

In order to incorporate this evolving person-centered philosophy, big changes are taking place in assisted living facilities across the country. Long hallways with resident rooms are giving way to “pods” connected by large courtyards or common areas, and individual rooms are getting larger, with private sitting areas and easy access to larger common areas. Cost-consciousness is always a factor, so designers have their work cut out for them to combine functionality and efficiency in space planning in order to make the best use of the space available while still creating a larger, more spacious feel with increased privacy and access to public areas. To further challenge even the best designers, the atmosphere must be gender-neutral to appeal to both the male and female aging population.

It’s interesting to watch the evolution of senior living design. What changes have your organization embraced or incorporated to create a more home-like, person-centered environment that appeals to modern seniors? Have you noticed an increase the proportion of male to female residents, and have you found it necessary to make design changes to appeal to the male resident?

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