Assisted Living

8/26/2020 | By Rachel Marsh

In order to best cater to the needs of the many Americans living with memory loss issues, memory care centers are sprouting up all over the country.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are currently over 5 million people in the United States living with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Though there is no cure yet for this disease, these memory care centers are designed to help their residents to thrive each day as best they can. 

Many, also, are consistently growing and evolving to best cater to their residents’ needs: from more intimate floor plans and rooms; specially chosen colors and décor; and new technology that caters to individual needs and circumstances. 

What to Look for in a Memory Care

Senior with nurse at memory care center

Overall, like other senior living communities, memory care centers come in many variations: from different sizes, to different types, to different levels of care. No “type” is specifically better than the other – they simply offer different benefits, depending on the individual need of the individual resident.

Standalone vs. Attached

Memory care centers are located in either a standalone facility – a building with staff dedicated solely to memory care – or attached to a larger assisted living community.

Standalone facilities generally offer more comprehensive and personalized care, and often have a higher staff-to-patient ratio. Usually, there is also better security in a standalone facility – an important factor to consider for the many Alzheimer’s and dementia patients prone to wandering.

However, memory care centers attached to a larger senior community are often easier to transition into. Residents don’t have to move far away, and they don’t have to adapt to an entirely new atmosphere. Additionally, many memory care centers have a long waiting list; but it’s easier to get into a facility to which a resident already belongs.

Small vs. Large

Just like standalone compared to attached facilities, different sized memory care centers offer different benefits.

Larger centers generally have more resources, more staff members, and better security systems. However, they may be more overwhelming to residents, and tend to not be quite as cozy and communal as smaller memory care centers. Smaller centers also tend to be locally owned, and more affordable.

Design Trends

Senior woman at a memory care center smelling flowers

As they continue to evolve to better suit the needs of their residents, some communities have started to readjust their building designs and décor.

Colors. As with many other things, color choices make a big difference in the lives of those with dementia. The right blend of colors – yellows, purples, blues – can lift spirits and invoke a subconscious sense of happiness and calm. Highly contrasting colors, on the other hand, may cause alarm or confusion in residents.

Small spaces. Large spaces can often be challenging for those with dementia because of the unpredictability and lack of structure. Smaller, more intimate spaces may feel less overwhelming; they also give residents a feeling of greater control over their environment, and can help encourage social interaction!

Eliminate dead ends. Hallways with dead ends have been proven to frustrate those with dementia, and can even lead to agitation and aggression. Many facilities are starting to design their hallways to wrap around or connect, to prevent as many dead ends as possible.

Reminiscence Program

Senior woman in a garden at a memory care center

These days, many memory care centers are structuring themselves to feel more like a second home than a facility. Studies show that residents feel more happy, comfortable, and content in a home-like environment. It’s generally an easier transition for those with memory issues to move into a hospitable, cozy atmosphere; this helps them feel as if they’ve been at home the whole time. It often even causes less confusion and aggression.

Centers have found simple ways to implement home-like touches – and some smaller communities are even located in houses!

Gardens

While facilities focus on keeping the inside comfortable, many are starting to turn their attention to the outdoors. Gardens growing in the outdoor open spaces, for instance, are found to be mentally relaxing and restorative – even just by looking at them. Which is why, often in health care settings, these gardens are called “healing” or “therapy” gardens. 

Some gardens even incorporate secured or locked walking paths within them (especially beneficial to those residents who wander). 

Many buildings also have front, back, or wrap-around porches for a naturally home-like space to congregate with others or enjoy alone time.

Spaces Just Like Home

Though typical daily tasks are taken care of by memory care center staff – meals, laundry, and so on – some communities now construct spaces to make them feel like real rooms of a traditional home.

Kitchens, for example: centers may put in a non-functioning, yet realistic and interactive, kitchen with which residents can interact and feel as if they’re in an actual home. Fake laundry rooms are popular spaces to incorporate too, as well as nurseries.

Additionally, some communities are starting to lean heavily into “reminiscence therapy”: therapeutic spaces aimed at connecting memory loss patients to their past. 

One senior living community in California, for example, has set up a 9,000-square foot “town square” designed to look and feel like a small town straight from the 1950s. Residents can have a meal at the diner while listening to the jukebox; sit back for a classic flick at the “local” movie theater; tinker with the 1959 T-Bird in the town garage; and enjoy other store fronts like the beauty shop, department store, and old-fashioned clinic.

Memory Care Activities

Multisensory room for seniors

Those living with memory issues such as Alzheimer’s and dementia often go throughout the day in a state of confusion. It can be hard for them to grasp reality or understand what’s going on; especially since the world around them is often not what they think it is in their heads. Often, this confusion can lead to frequent frustration, isolation, and aggression.

Multisensory Rooms

Though, again, there is no cure for dementia, multisensory room technology eases the negative side effects of the disease. 

When bored and understimulated, those with Alzheimer’s and dementia tend to lash out in aggression. So, although they likely can’t enjoy the same hobbies that they used to, multisensory (or Snoezelen) rooms are created to essentially provide stimulation to the senses of users. A lot of the world is confusing for those with memory issues; but multisensory rooms are, in many ways, speaking a language that they can understand.

They offer positive experiences in the form of taste, touch, smell, vision, and sound. This may include the soothing sound of a waterfall; the sight of a fish tank or bubble tube; or the feel of a soft fur blanket. There are a wide range of activities, but ultimately, they provoke a sense of calm and engagement; sometimes, an aspect of the room may even create nostalgia and bring back fond memories for the user.

Overall, these experiences help connect residents with the world around them. Multisensory rooms relieve stress and enhance happiness and comfort in those with dementia. As a result, residents are happier, and may even display better memory and communication as a whole.

Memory Care Facility Near Me

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Rachel Marsh

Award-winning writer Rachel Marsh has written for many different sites and publications on a variety of topics. She is the multimedia editor for Seniors Guide and works hard to make sure seniors and their families have the best information possible. When she’s not writing for work, she can be found writing for fun. Really!

Rachel Marsh