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Memory Care


Longer life spans and growing rates of dementia have created increased demand for memory care facilities. Here’s what to know and how to plan for it.

While the U.S. economy may not be back to normal expansion rates, one clear bright spot is the construction of new senior housing facilities. Leading real estate developers have broken ground on numerous new projects, and more are in the planning stages. According to the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing & Care Industry (NIC), in 2012 there were 2.9 million senior living units nationwide and approximately 42,000 units were in construction or being planned.

In order to better meet the needs of residents with Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias, memory care units have become standard components of most new senior housing communities. 

The growth in the Baby Boomer senior segment has been well- documented:  More than 80 million Boomers will reach retirement age over the next 20 years. Furthermore, a 2010 National Survey of Residential Care Facilities conducted by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, shows that Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are among the most prevalent chronic conditions of those living in residential care settings.

Beverly Brandon, AIA, vice president at architectural firm Rees Associates, and a nationally-recognized expert on designing for seniors, says, “The latest trend of including memory care in a senior housing project is indicative of how savvy developers have become more understanding of the needs of aging older adults and the marketplace their communities serve.” 

“As an architect, understanding the fundamentals of good design for seniors suffering from dementia is paramount for a successful memory care residence. Providing a safe, recognizable and comforting home are the cornerstones for good design. But designing good memory care residences goes beyond the fundamentals. They must also include evidence-based design features and amenities which have been proven to be effective in compensating for limited cognitive abilities.” 

“For example,” Brandon said, “clothes closets in resident bedrooms are modified to enable the resident to dress themselves with limited assistance. Each resident bedroom should have two separate closets. One closet is for the clothes to be worn that day; the other, which is to be lockable, for the remaining clothes.  The ‘daily wear’ closet’s design allows for the clothes to be hung and placed so that the resident sees the front of each garment. The clothes are also arranged in the order a resident would typically put the clothes on. These design features respond to the residents’ cognitive limitations and enable the resident to dress themselves.” 

This is just one of numerous examples of special building features that should be included in the design of a memory care residence. Because these details are so unique, it’s important for developers and contractors to be well-versed in their finer points in order to contribute during the design process and assure these features are properly executed during construction.

Good memory care design also improves the quality of life for residents in other measurable ways:

  • Decreased falls and injuries;
  • Fewer emergency room visits;
  • Improved mental acuity and increased happiness.

And though the built environment can certainly facilitate practical care and safety, the most successful memory care units are staffed by dedicated and conscientious memory care specialists. These specialists work with families to gather information about residents’ interests, experiences and hobbies in life in order to engage and stimulate residents more effectively.

The demographics and market trends are clear: Memory care is a growing need among seniors, and developers have an opportunity to capture more of this business if they can study it, learn it, and build it.