Marion, MA – South Coast Improvement recently added a memory unit construction to its services. Americans are living longer and, subsequently, more people are residing in nursing homes, assisted living, and senior living facilities, according to Tom Quinlan, president of South Coast Improvement. What’s placed an added burden on these facilities, he says, is the growing proportion of that senior population suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia: 44% of seniors between the ages of 75 and 84. This epidemic has forced most of these facilities to incorporate a memory unit for these residents, either as part of a renovation or as an addition.
“Renovating an assisted living facility to include a memory unit presents some unique challenges, as you’re creating a space for people who have different issues and require more specialized care than your other residents,” said Quinlan. “The main issue is you have people that need special attention that keeps them out of the mainstream of the rest of the facility. At the same time, you don’t want them to feel isolated or imprisoned.”
In working with architects and designers on memory units, Quinlan recommends self-contained “neighborhoods.” Typically, those consist of 10 to 14 residents but can be altered depending on the needs of the program, staffing, and the level of dementia being served, and whether multiple levels of dementia are being served in a single unit.
Another attribute of memory units are dedicated spaces for care and programming, Quinlan notes. These include common spaces for group activity, living, dining, and therapy areas — all of which entice individuals to leave their apartments and socialize with other residents and staff. Some memory care units can have specialized spaces such as a greenhouse, therapy kitchen where residents (with supervision) can prepare their favorite recipes, a music therapy space with piano, a laundry that allows residents to participate, and a library.
Memory care unit space should also provide space for residents to move around, specifically interior and exterior paths for walking and wandering. Interior circulation loops and “destination points” (e.g., alcoves with chairs, desks, and reading lamps) provide a neighborhood feel and encourage residents to explore and interact with others. Whether interior or exterior, visual clues and wayfinding techniques are critical elements of the design.
“How the memory care unit space progresses is critical. There should be a secure progression of space, from public to private, from the entry to the common neighborhood areas and, eventually, to residents’ apartments,” adds Quinlan. “The entry should be to a secure, supervised area versus into an apartment corridor. Service areas and room relationships also are important and should include transitions from secured apartments to a supervised dining, living, or activity space.
“There are other design elements to be considered. You want the space to have a homey feel as opposed to institutional. There are other things, like individual showers for each resident that, for obvious reasons, feature secure valving or other methods of staff control.”
South Coast Improvement, a general contractor, has provided design-build services to nursing homes, assisted living, and senior living facilities since the company’s beginnings in 1997.