A longtime senior living innovator and Georgetown University adjunct faculty member is touting a new memory care design undertaken at a life plan community in Virginia as a next-generation vision for the industry.
The community earlier this year unveiled a new approach involving technology and physical renovations that amounted to creating a “first-of-its-kind” memory care model for residents at The Virginian, a life plan community in Fairfax Virginia managed by LCS.
The design, which Carle helped spearhead using experience he has gained over the previous three decades in the industry, is part of the first finished phase of a $60 million renovation project at The Virginian that won a gold award in the 2022 Environments for Aging Remodel and Renovation contest.
“I consider this to be a capstone project that was able to incorporate the latest evidenced-based design, new technology and establish three unique spaces,” Carle recently told Memory Care Business (MCB).
The project’s roots date back to 2021, when Carle — then the community’s executive director — was tasked with coming up with a new memory care space for the community’s $60 million renovation plans. Carle wanted to move away from traditional memory care concepts that have been popular and highly used in the last two decades, such as life skill stations.
“It was about how do we put things in place that they’re actually going to use,” Carle said.
In his time leading memory care and senior living operations, Carle says he sticks to two guiding principles: Meeting memory care residents where they are at, and to “not make Sarah cry,” meaning, don’t fall into design points that could frustrate a resident living with dementia.
That’s done by creating “wayfinding design,” creating landmarks that memory care residents will recognize and follow to find their room.
Areas within the community that were remodeled included common areas, residential spaces including hallways and suites, dining, activity and living spaces, along with reconfigured outdoor space. The living area was expanded from 7,350 square-feet to 13,175 square-feet, an 80% increase. That included adding 32 studios, two, one bedroom units and two shared suite apartments, meaning the community can now fit nearly 40 residents into the memory care program.
The memory care program itself was based on the “Three-Legged Stool of Dementia Design,” which was created by Carle and his consulting firm Carle Consulting LLC.
“Every feature should have something to do with making it safe, making it directional and making it therapeutic,” Carle said.
Hallways and reception areas were renovated with rounded interior corners to draw residents through the space and away from the exit, which can lead to negative emotional responses like exit-seeking behavior.
Instead of work stations, the community installed EyeClick’s OBIE sensory lounge that offers hand-motion games for memory care residents, along with aromatherapy, nature sounds and tactile wall art as part of the sensory and reminiscence lounge.
Carle said time is of the essence for operators to make changes to decades-old memory care spaces as demand for senior living grows and the country’s demographics skew older as more people live to 100 and beyond.
“We need to go back and retrofit these spaces,” Carle said. “You can take almost any environment and at least make it better.”