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Memory care: Private vs semi-private rooms

August 9, 2011
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“Should memory care residents be in private or semi-private rooms?”

This is the question I often get asked by architects and owners new to memory care. Success with either room option can sometimes depend on the community’s program; other times the resident matching is just too difficult to maintain the proper occupancy. Because of my conflicting answers, I often feel that architects and owners are left more confused. So I went to the most well respected industry experts I know and asked their opinions and guess what … they had different views as well. Looks like I’m ambivalent for a reason after all!

Here’s what they had to say:

Pro private rooms

Mari Warburton, M & M Healthcare Group, LLC

Private rooms are preferable because quite often a resident is spending much of his or her time in common areas; and with the dementia process, it is optimal to have a place that is their own and a place of quiet and solace if desired.

However, when cost is an issue, the staff can try to provide time for each resident to be alone in that shared space. For the social resident who is not bothered by the idea of a companion in the sleeping area, it can be comforting. The constant stimulation and the different behaviors that can transpire with dementia can make it important to properly match up the semi-private residents in order to make it the best arrangement for both individuals. If the dementia area has many residents to accommodate in a semi-private situation, it can be difficult to find the best match for each person involved and can lead to some agitation.


Pro semi-private rooms

Joe Mikalajunas, Senior Vice President & COO, Spectrum Retirement Communities, LLC

I still think companion living is a viable option in memory care and I feel this for a few reasons:

1. Lower price point. Due to the recession, we have seen many of our customers more concerned with price than ever before. The two biggest causes of this are a loss of a job with adult children, which limits the amount of support they can contribute to their parents’ care/rent; and the loss in value of our residents’ retirement portfolio, which reduces the amount of money they have to spend on senior care.


Because of these two factors, a companion option opens memory care at up to $2,000 less per month than a private option. Keep in mind, memory care is one of our most expensive care options out there, so being able to reduce the cost up to $2,000/month may be the difference between a family being able to afford senior care or not.

Let’s face it, if they could afford a private room, they would be purchasing one. Cost is the primary reason for people having to consider a shared living situation.


Lisa Cini

President and CEO

Cini is president and CEO of Mosaic...



Thank you for the comments. The question of "be in" was not intended to imply live in, nor was it meant to imply sleep in. There are times when we are not sleeping but getting ready for the day or night that we need to not only sleep in our room but "be in". I agree 100% that the value of community spaces and living rooms etc. are critical to quality of life. I have also seen however that as Joe stated the design of a semi-private room that is shared but has private space can be a great option for cognitively challenged adults that need a lower entry point.

Lisa...from a quality of life standpoint, I believe that a private room for a cognitively challenged resident is the best solution. is the best solution for cognitively intact residents!

As I look back at your original question, Should memory care residents "be in" private or semi-private rooms, I am challenged by the "be in". To achieve the most home-like setting, I think memory care residents should "sleep in" private bedrooms. They should "live in" their living rooms, their kitchens, their parlors, their porches and their community spaces. These private bedrooms should not be too large or designed to enable isolation. They should provide residents with a sense of choice in terms of their privacy, no matter what degree of confusion they are experiencing.

I do agree that cost has to come into the equation, but the privacy issue must be considered ahead of cost in my opinion.

I generally agree that a private room is preferred by most people - after all, do you really want to live with a stranger for the rest of your life? And I like Mitch's comment about "be in" vs. sleep in and live in.

But maybe more important is the design of the room. If we can all agree that the "hospital-layout, side-by-side and only separate by a piece of fabric" is unacceptable, that every individual deserves access to and control over his or her own window, and deserves acoustic privacy as well, I think that would go a long way. Sounds and noise (from TVs or talking on the phone or whatever) is a significant factor in roommate conflicts.

Finally, if you want the research on the cost and value of private rooms, click here