Memory care: Private vs semi-private rooms

“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.

2. Better apartments. In many cases, the design of companion care rooms is getting better. In one of our room options, each resident has his or her own private bathroom and own room. The square footage is smaller, but better design is finding creative ways to increase privacy even in a shared situation. Because of this, the rooms “feel” better to the customer when they walk into them.

3. Better training for team members. Companion living is not for everyone and I feel the lack of staff training causes residents to be “roomed” together who never should have. Many of these bad pairings feed the bad stories we hear time and time again as strong evidence against this type of option. Good examples would be a heavily incontinent resident or one that can be very aggressive. In both of these situations, finding a compatible companion for each person in a shared living environment would be tricky at best or nearly impossible. Additionally, you need to have staff training that helps your sales team members be able to handle standard objections to this type of living option. Once you sit with a family member and educate them on the benefits of companion living, you can help them better visualize it as an option for their loved one.

I am convinced that I could ask 10 more experts and get a 50/50 split on private versus semi-private for memory care rooms. I then have to conclude that it ultimately comes down to the operator and how they wish to program, staff and match residents in their dementia/Alzheimer’s programs.

Topics: Design , Housing