Cluster-Model, Open Spaces Top List for Memory Care Design

Reimagining landscape and living spaces are crucial when designing dementia care facilities to not only meet residents’ needs, but better serve their emotional and socialization behaviors as well, a new report by a leading architecture firm and Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) finds.

Perkins Eastman Research Collaborative and AFA teamed up to examine best design practices and other considerations surrounding residential care settings for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in “Excellence in Design: Optimal Living Space for People With Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias.”

A desire to inform the growing memory care facility sector inspired the collaboration, AFA’s president and contributor to the report Carol Steinberg tells SHN. This is the first collaboration between the two entities. 


“With the growing incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, there is growing discussion among developers and administrators, as well as families, about what dementia care settings ideally should look at,” Steinberg says about part of the impetus for the study. “Our goal is to foster that dialogue and provide concrete guidelines to assist with that discussion.”

It is estimated that more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is expected to triple by mid-century, the report says.

As the memory care sector is expected to grow to meet aging Americans’ needs, developers should take notice of design elements that preserve residents’ dignity and are more home-like than institutional, Steinberg says.


“Perkins and AFA have identified that housing models with clusters, those with 10 to 12 people that share a kitchen and living space but still have a private bedroom so individual identity, [are a good design model],” Steinberg says, adding that developers’ questions regarding such facilities’ landscape design are also addressed in the report. 

Woodside Place, in Birmingham, England, offers a cluster-design model for residents, the study notes. 

“Each household includes a small dining room, sitting spaces, and a residential kitchen that create familiar settings for familiar experiences,” the study says. “Most resident bedrooms are single occupancy and all have direct access to a private half bathroom.”

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Spaces where residents can roam freely in a secure environment are also important.

“Outdoor spaces that are secure allow a person to wander freely, but do not post safety issues,” Steinberg says. “You want design elements where you don’t have to say, ‘No.’”

Continuous, looping walkways, fencing around the property and featuring non-toxic plants are some ways to manage landscapes for residents, she says.

“Make it look like a residence,” Steinberg says about other key takeaways from the study, adding that designs that can “tuck away” staff equipment and work stations are effective in meeting that goal.

Woodside Place also mimics a traditional household by having bedrooms located off more private hallways, the report notes.

Traditionally, memory care facilities feature a more institutional look, Steinberg says, adding that while some memory care facilities are up to par with the latest design trends, many “need to pick up speed.”

The emphasis on personalized design reflects an overall industry culture change toward person-centered care, she says.

“We’re looking at what strengths we can build upon of the person, rather than looking at the weaknesses,” she says. “What can be done to better serve their physical, emotional and socialization needs? We need to preserve that person’s dignity and build upon that person’s remaining strengths and create a space not only welcoming to that person, but to that person’s family and friends.”

The report offers step-by-step guidelines to enhance design, and also details all aspects of an environment’s impact on daily living, including active engagement and security.

The report also features other facilities where this design criteria applies, including Corinne Dolan Alzheimer Center in Chardon, Ohio; Gardiner House in Gardiner, Maine; and Lefroy Hostel in Bull Creek, Western Australia.

“Everyone wants—and deserves—a supportive place he or she can call home,” says Emily Chmielewski EDAC, an associate with Perkins Eastman and the report’s author in a news release. “Our goal in developing this report was to present a philosophy of both care and design that will help change the long-term care landscape to meet the needs of residents, their families, and professional caregivers.”

Access the full report here

Written by Cassandra Dowell

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