Curating Comfort: Designing Smarter Memory Care Facilities

by: Christa Epley

The Manor at Lake Jackson looks more like a rustic country club than a residence for memory care patients, with its hunter green façade, tapered columns, low-pitched roof lines, and big, open front porch. The Manor follows the recent trend in memory care of designing comfortable, home-like spaces, eschewing the traditional sterility of a medical facility. Although it seems obvious that patient comfort is a crucial aspect, for too long the focus was on “controlling and containing” dementia behaviors rather than fostering independence in their daily lives. Some recent developments in memory care design that have improved the lives of patients are explored below.

Colors and Patterns — When designing a memory care facility, muted colors like buttery yellows, baby blues, and soft coral tones have a familiar, calming effect. Colors in resident’s bedrooms are often more neutral, allowing residents more freedom to personalize the space to their comfort level. Walls and floors should always feature contrasting colors to avoid spatially confusing residents, and color coding certain areas such as dining rooms or bathrooms can prompt patients to affiliate a space’s color with its function. When dealing with patterning, it is important to avoid designs that are overly busy or feature harsh colors that can agitate and confuse residents. In addition to patterns, vinyl flooring imitates the wooden paneling of a traditional home setting, but is softer and more slip resistant to better cater to residents who suffer from mobility or are prone to falls.

Grace Manor Living Room

Orientation — Sociologist John Zeisel, Ph.D., author of “Inquiry by Design: Environment/Behavior/Neuroscience in Architecture, Interiors, Landscape, and Planning” explains:
“For people with dementia, the concept of wayfinding should be thought of as ‘place knowing.’ People with dementia know where they are when they’re there; they only know where they are going if they see the destination. The in-betweens — the connections between destinations — are lost on them.”

Accordingly, the physical environment needs to support an individual in those in-between moments. Creating distinct spaces can help residents know when they’ve found the right room, such as putting familiar, sentimental objects on a patient’s room door. Using decorations to clue residents into where they are going, such as a painting of a fruit bowl near a kitchen entrance can also provide clarity. It’s also essential to avoid building corridors with dead end to mitigate resident agitation and allow for easier staff supervision.

Balancing Safety and Freedom — Safety features can often feel like physical barriers to patients. Creating interior circulation loops and “destination points” such as alcoves with chairs, desks, and reading lamps brightens the environment and encourages residents to explore and interact with others.  Giving smooth, unbroken paths without unneeded security features instills a sense of independence that helps foster a home-like environment. Entrances can be placed in highly visible areas where staff is always present to monitor access in and out.

grace_manor_171

With all this in mind, safety is still a concern, so provide secondary security so if a resident gets past the first layer, he or she is still in a safe place. For instance, if someone exits the household, the person would still have to go through the administrative space before leaving the building. Another safety concern with elderly patients in general is fall prevention. A balance of safety and freedom must be achieved. Limit changes in floor elevations and material, provide ample hand rails throughout (especially in corridors), and eliminate doors to restrooms and closets to give memory impaired residents the smoothest path possible to their destination. Good practice in room design is to have a direct line of sight from the bed to the toilet to help mitigate late-night incontinence.

By changing our approach to memory care design using these smart concepts, we offer the best chance to do the most good when older adults and their families find themselves in the most need of help, comfort, and support.