Memory care units: stand alone homes or assisted living integration?

One might argue that creating stand alone memory care facilities or “homes” should be the gold standard for operations and design. These would be purpose-built facilities that take into all the considerations of elopement, wandering, life-skill stations, intimate dining, natural light, secured exterior spaces, stages of Alzheimer’s, and way finding. They also have a staff that has been superbly trained to meet the needs of a cognitively disabled resident that can be cared for in whichever stage they find themselves—which sounds like the ideal plan. However, some 80% of assisted living residents are said to have some sort of dementia or early stage Alzheimer’s. Where does this leave these individuals who may find themselves in a home that does not support memory care because they have a separate building or program for that?

Some issues that are created by this model revolve around the transition that becomes more difficult for the families and the residents that are already in assisted living and need to move out vs. going down the hall to a memory care unit. For those individuals going directly into a memory care home it seems to be somewhat less traumatic.

On the flipside, assisted living homes with memory care programs offer a smoother transition for the resident and their family, but they quite often miss the mark on the design. With the exception of new builds and some purpose developed units within an assisted living home, you’ll find conversions of an assisted living wing that have added a secured door, courtyard, and a small dining space, then suddenly you have a memory care unit! Dead-end corridors, lack of vestibule for prevention of elopement, lack of natural sunlight, rooms larger than are needed, or common areas too small are typical of these conversions.

Throughout the years we have designed stand-alone, integrated purpose built memory care units and need driven conversions for memory care and I can see the pro’s and con’s of all. It might all come down to the quality of program and be less about the design.

If you’ve ever worked in assisted living facility that had an integrated memory care unit, describe the interiors in the box below.

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