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Facility Design Tips for Memory Care   11/20/17

In coordination with National Alzheimer’s Disease month, Bailey Freeman, our design professional, is sharing a few design and space planning tips that will help people with dementia.

People with dementia often have trouble making sense of the world around them. Therefore, the design of a care facility should support the functions and behavioral changes, promote safety, and encourage independence its residents. These can be addressed with proper wandering, wayfinding and sensory stimulation tactics.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, six in ten people with dementia wander. Frustration and confusion occur when those who wander reach dead ends. A strategy to reduce this frustration, with doors not intended for resident use, is to locate doors parallel to the hallway to decrease visibility rather than at the end of the hallway. Additionally, a racetrack floor plan can allow for wandering to happen in a controlled way.

Another trend in designing memory care communities are themed wings.  This can be done through colors, local area themes, etc. which help trigger residents’ memory.  Once in the wings, "memory boxes" can be used to help trigger their memory so they don't have to remember a room number.  Another strategy is to make key destinations such as the dining room, bathroom, and living rooms easily visible.

Sensory Stimulation
Sensory stimulation has been proven to reduce behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. Implementing acoustic and visual design elements to increase sensory stimulation has become a vital strategy of memory care design.

Acoustic Stimulation
Acoustic stimulation can have positive and negative effects on the residents.  Some strategies to eliminate negative stimuli are to remove PA systems, avoid playing music throughout the entire facility, and minimize noise from needed institutional support systems such as icemakers, carts, and pill-crushers by placing sound absorbing materials in these areas.

Sounds can be used as cues through the day to provide positive stimulation. For example, bird songs as residents are rising or hymns before meals. Music can also be used to trigger pleasant memories from residents to promote relaxation or give them the urge to dance.

Visual Stimulation
Like acoustic stimulation, visual stimulation has its ups and downs. “Eye tricks” need to be eliminated from the facility. One tactic is to reduce glare from windows and lights by using carpeting, low-gloss floor waxes, and sheer curtains. Providing clear variation between the floor and the wall colors can help residents differentiate surfaces. Bold, complex patterns can also confuse residents with dementia. When walls, furniture or floors have large designs on them, residents may think they are stains and try to clean them, pick at them or avoid them all together.