They may comprise only 26% of the senior living cohort (according to the National Center for Assisted Living), but that does not mean men have no opinion about the way things look, about what programs are offered, or about how care is provided in the settings they choose.
Pam Gerhardt noticed it when visiting communities on her father’s behalf, and she wrote all about it in a Washington Post article published in June. She makes several forthright recommendations that senior living providers would be wise to consider, among them “lose the chintz,” “nourish the inner bro” and “can the canned music.”
I love when a piece of writing challenges the way I think or wakes me up to a reality I hadn’t fully grasped. Gerhardt’s post did that for me because for all the years I worked in assisted living and retirement communities, I never really thought about its design (all aspects) being so heavily feminine.
Yes, I realized that most of the communities were not my style (floral patterns and seemingly infinite shades of mauves, beiges, and creams don’t do it for me), and yes, as an activities director who hosted many a “Manicure Monday,” I never expected a male resident to show up for that calendar offering. But I still focused more on the cleanliness, efficiency, and accessibility of a community’s layout and aesthetics more than I did the gender bias side of things.
Of course, things like cleanliness, efficiency, and accessibility are of primary importance; attractive carpets and top-notch furnishings that appeal to all genders mean nothing if the quality of care is dismal. However, there is something to be said for creating a senior living environment that is inviting both to male and female residents as well as male and female visitors.
I’m not advocating a budget blowout to buy all new artwork, repaint the entire building in a balance of masculine and feminine colors, or retrofit the current arts and crafts room to make a sports pub. Quality care always gets top billing in my book and I╒d rather see time, talent, and treasures flow there first.
However, ensuring that a senior living community offers activities that appeal to men and women (i.e., poker nights, historical lectures, comedy presentations, and woodworking classes) is a worthy effort that doesn’t cost much. Likewise, educating direct care staff on the need for sensitivity when providing intimate personal care to residents of the opposite gender is important too (and it doesn’t have to be cost-prohibitive). If you are at a loss for ideas, look no further than the residents themselves: All you have to do is ask.
So the next time your budget supports a flooring upgrade or a common areas interior design update, think outside the gender box. Until then, what practical, economical suggestions will you implement to make senior living more gender-neutral?