From wall color to carpet pattern and table texture, design in a memory care community is very important and should work as a tool, helping residents live as independently as possible for as long as they can.
Walking into a memory care community you might notice a picture of a fork and spoon near the dining room, maybe comment on a beautiful black and white photo showcased next to an apartment door or realize no matter how long you walk you always end up going in a circle. Small touches like these create a safe, stimulating and autonomous environment for residents living with dementia.
Key Concepts found in Memory Care Design:
- Incorporating the familiar:
- Residents may have trouble remembering or identifying numbers to find their apartment. Most communities have started incorporating shadow boxes by resident doors filled with photos of the resident when they were younger, along with other important objects or events from their life. This makes it easier for a resident to find their way back to their apartment without assistance.
- The use of natural light when designing a memory care community is important in helping to regulate circadian rhythms and reduce agitation and anxiousness as the sun starts to set.
- Providing controls for heating and lighting that residents can easily work and have access to creates a feeling of being in control of the environment, and not being at the mercy of the environment.
- Use of a Household or Neighborhood Model:
- It is becoming more common in memory care design to incorporate a neighborhood feel. This means smaller groupings of 10-14 residents, each with private rooms, situated around shared living spaces. This design supports relationship building among the smaller, more manageable, grouping of residents. The neighborhood becomes a familiar environment and provides space for them to walk and wander safely.
- Wayfinding and Orientation:
- To avoid wayfinding issues, spaces should be distinct in appearance and include landmarks at decision making points (ex. where two hallways meet). These landmarks work to remind residents what activities or events happen in a certain area, or what direction they need to head in to return to their apartment.
- Certain objects and artwork may also be useful in assisting residents with seasonal or temporal orientation.
- A Safe and Secure Environment:
- Patterns for carpeting and flooring are chosen deliberately not so much for design appeal but for the safety of residents. For example, there should be limited contrast between two patterns where they meet. The contrast may cause residents to think they are stepping into something new. Also, avoid dark floors as they may be perceived as holes.
- Creating a safe environment for residents living with dementia is important not only for the family of a resident, but also for the resident themselves. This can be difficult because people with dementia may become paranoid and anxious. One precaution taken is to make sure the neighborhood or memory care portion of the community is secure. Meaning keys or codes are needed to enter and exit the neighborhood. This allows residents the ability to walk/wander freely within the neighborhood and secure courtyard without the risk of getting lost or hurt.
- Make sure the entry point of the neighborhood isn’t a focused, high traffic area. Seeing people come and go and not having that same freedom may cause frustration, confusion and anxiety for residents.
- Access to safe outdoor areas is important to reduce agitation, relieve stress and improve physical fitness. Secure courtyards may feature walking paths that loop around leading back to the building. During summer months they can be filled with plants and flowers for residents to tend to and take care of. It becomes a relaxing environment that gives residents a chance to enjoy the outdoors.
As with most design, in memory care it is important to know who will be living in the space and what their needs may be. Does this decision make it possible for residents to live more independently? Will it eliminate unnecessary agitation and stress? Most importantly will it bring them joy or comfort?
When choosing the right community for your family, you probably won’t base it on who had the best carpet patterns or directional landmarks. Knowing all the little things that go into caring for residents living with dementia may make the decision to move your family into a community a little easier.