Creating and designing a space requires a keen understanding of the person(s) for whom you are designing, and that can never be more true than in memory care interior design.

Creating a space for residents with dementia insists that one truly understand how the resident interprets the world, will interact with space, what their day looks like from sunrise to sunset, the unique challenges they or their caregivers face, and how design can impact their safety and quality of life.

It also requires that design go a step further than form and function: it must also serve as a tool for dementia residents to navigate through their day.

To assist in creating a memory care community that meets the specific needs of dementia residents, we’re sharing our “Must Haves for Memory Care Interior Design” below 

  1. Wandering Design

Those with dementia are known to wander. Although wandering has been discouraged in the past, memory care communities are seeing the benefits of safe design techniques that allow residents to wander throughout the property and feel more at ease.

“Wandering is encouraged with flowing open floor plans that offer dynamic activities and destinations scattered within sight,” says Warner Design Associates’ designer, Rachel Gooding. This helps residents feel less disoriented, anxious or bored.

Since dead ends cause frustration and agitation, “Memory care interior designers should remove dead ends, minimize restricted areas, and provide easy access to the outdoors,” says Gooding.

Another key to creating a safe wandering design is intentionally planning seating areas with water or snacks throughout the community, providing areas for residents to take breaks when they are tired and reduce safety concerns that may be caused by fatigue.

  1. Sensory Stimulation

As cognitive abilities decline, it becomes increasingly difficult for a person with Alzheimer’s to express themselves or perform everyday activities. This leads to frustration that can be soothed with activities that help them express themselves or relax in other ways – such as sensory stimulation.

The goal for sensory stimulation at memory care communities is to arouse the senses to evoke positive feelings. Interior designers can achieve this by creating areas that awaken the senses through lighting, visuals, music, objects and more. Some communities have achieved this through installing fish tanks, areas where seniors can engage with familiar activities or objects such as a globe or teacher’s desk (see our post on Life Skills Stations), express themselves through drawings, or providing other sensory-rich materials that are interesting to the touch or smell. This stimulation can improve seniors’ overall mood, self-esteem, and well-being.

  1. Wayfinding

Spatial disorientation and finding one’s way is challenging for those with dementia. Yet navigating on one’s own is an important function of the feeling of independence, self-sufficiency, and self-esteem.

Wayfinding helps residents navigate through the building by use of color or objects to trigger connections that communicate a message. A noticeable item, such as a sculpture, can serve as a marker that helps the resident understand where they are. This is especially important in areas that are decision points, such as where hallways converge.

Objects and colors can also help a resident understand types of activities that happen in a room. For example, a specific color palate or piece of artwork may help the resident associate a room with a certain activity that happens there. Or seeing a game table next to a TV may help communicate that this area is used for leisure.

Such wayfinding tactics help residents navigate and make sense of things and improve their daily function and well-being.

There are many other design factors that are important in memory care interior design, but wandering design, sensory stimulation, and wayfinding are three must-haves that we incorporate when working with memory care communities. Have questions about design for memory care communities? We invite you to contact us!