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Creating Effective Design for Memory Care Communities

Creating Effective Design for Memory Care Communities
January 14, 2020


As the demand for memory care services rapidly grows, the senior living industry is quickly adapting to the needs of residents to provide the most effective, enhanced long-term care. Designers and healthcare providers are exploring ways to elevate resident’s living experience through providing communities designed around resident’s needs.

No longer are the days of patients being relegated to institutions that lacked healthcare services specifically dedicated to dementia and related conditions. Our society has come a long way from simply placing seniors in nursing homes to wait out their final days. Yet, memory care is still a fairly new concept, having been developed within the last twenty years, and industry leaders are still learning about ways to provide optimum care.

At Bernardon, we acknowledge that memory care is an ever-changing field. Our recent designs for Kendal~Crosslands Communities in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania and Barclay Friends in West Chester, Pennsylvania reflect our commitment to a thoughtful design approach and genuine sensitivity to the client, their residents, and their needs. No matter the scope, we strive to create customized living communities that focus on providing comfort, enhanced activity, and social enrichment.

Cultivating Comfort

Creating a secure environment is key to effective memory support design. Not only for residents but for staff as well. Since residents often struggle with their whereabouts, designing a space that provides both familiarity and comfort is paramount to their safety and well-being. For staff, this also helps to reinforce an atmosphere that’s conducive to providing excellent care. Some ways we implement comfort through design include:

Residential vs. Institutional – Residents need their surroundings to be their home, and implementing residential design elements helps to create that environment. By avoiding institutional furniture and sterile finishes, and instead using residential furniture, textures, and lighting arrangements, the residents are able to feel at home.

Neighborhoods – It’s best not to have a large number of residents in a memory support wing at a time. By incorporating living spaces that include “neighborhoods” of four to six residents, it gives the resident the ability to get to know the people that are living in proximity to them and provides a sense of familiarity.

Dining Areas – Providing a communal setting like farm table seating for residents to dine with family or friends allows for socialization. Additionally, providing multiple table settings for residents to choose from allows for each resident’s specific lifestyle need. While some may prefer to dine alone, others may have a visiting friend or spouse that would like to dine with them.

Bedrooms – Designing bedrooms for individuals allows for enhanced caregiving. While some industry leaders believe that having a shared room is beneficial, creating private room settings for each resident creates a more customized living arrangement and an opportunity for higher engagement with staff. Ultimately, it’s up to the resident’s personal needs.

Cultivating comfort is only one key factor in providing thoughtful, customized design for memory care communities and their residents. Not only do we need to take into consideration a person’s emotional needs, but their physical needs as well. This is where activity-centered design comes into play.

Enhancing Activity

Implementing thoughtful design in response to residents’ physical needs results in enhanced activity. By providing spaces that encourage socialization, mental stimulation, and physical play, the memory care community is able to provide a better quality of life for the resident. Activity is crucial to maintaining a resident’s identity as they navigate the enigmatic stages of dementia, and design features including activity rooms, wander gardens, and customized interactive elements serve to strengthen their care.

Activity Rooms – Whether for physical play, therapeutic practices, or socialization, activity rooms provide a place where residents enjoy physical exertion and meaningful social interaction. Simply more than just a place for exertion, the design of such rooms can include features like bookcases or shelving that also serve as monitoring structures where nurses can watch over residents in common spaces, but still give residents a sense of independence.

Wander Gardens – Like activity rooms, wander gardens provide areas for residents to exert their physical abilities. Design elements like walking paths – whether outdoor or indoor – allow residents to exert energy and fulfills their need for mobility.

Stimulation – Managing stimulation within a memory care community is a vital element when considering its design. Since residents are often in different states of awareness and don’t always communicate their needs, it’s important to provide a balance regarding external stimulation they may experience. Focused stimulation, such as providing activities that stimulate their long-term memory, can serve to enhance their quality of life. However, it’s also important to limit the amount of stimulation they experience including loud noises, sudden movement, or too much social interaction that might cause disruption.

While physical activity and socialization are often linked, maintaining relationships between residents and loved ones requires an entirely different design approach. Incorporating design elements that can help to strengthen the relationship between family and residents while also alleviating hardships that come along with the disease involve a variety of design features.

Social Enrichment

Due to the inconsistent nature of dementia and its related conditions, caring for a loved one can be very disconcerting to spouses and family members. Since residents can be lucid somedays, but struggling the next, it’s vital to create environments that can enrich relationships between the resident and their family members, fellow residents, and staff.

Family and Friends — While memory care communities encourage visitation, it’s important to consider the complications that can come with it – for both the visitor and the resident. Design features like stealth corridors – which provide a secure, discreet hallway for loved ones to use after a visit – help to decrease separation anxiety or confusion that a resident might experience after a visit.

Healthcare Staff — Healthcare professionals working in memory care undergo extensive training in order to work with dementia residents. In doing so, they build a close relationship with the resident, and trust is built between the resident and their caregiver. Including areas where staff can gather and confidentially monitor residents, as described above, can help to foster an environment that encourages independence but still maintains a sense of order. Furthermore, designing staff areas for safety, such as separating housekeeping closets (filled with chemical cleaning supplies that residents could mistake for something to drink) from living areas, helps to reduce the risk hazard exposure to residents and promotes a safer, more enjoyable environment.

Dementia is a truly enigmatic condition that requires flexibility and adaptability from caregivers. Bernardon can support this need by anticipating the unpredictability of the condition and designing for its different stages. Thinking about how memory care services will be carried out in relation to other aspects of the senior living community will help to ensure the best care. Even through incorporating small details like the effects of lighting, visuals, acoustics, and even interior décor elements like mirrors, we’re able to craft living communities that keep residents comfortable and relaxed through their care

Featured photo by Matthias Zomer from Pexels.

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