Specializing in Senior Housing and Long-Term Care Development, Marketing, & Management

Design Tips To Soften Effects Of Alzheimer’s

If you talk to someone whose parent suffers from Alzheimer’s, they will tell you the disease changes life for everyone in the family. Alzheimer’s can create changes in a person’s independence and personality that are emotionally and financially devastating to loved ones.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive, degenerative disease that attacks the brain and results in increasingly impaired memory, thinking, reasoning, and behavior. It is the most common form of dementia, an umbrella term used to describe the loss of cognitive or intellectual function.

The single greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s is age. Although the disease can occur in younger people, even in their 30s and 40s, the risk significantly grows after age 65. It is estimated that 50% of those who pass their 80th birthday will be stricken. There are other risk factors besides age: family history of Alzheimer’s, stress, serious illness or injury, inadequate physical and social activity, poor diet, and perhaps even race.

Taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s can be overwhelming. Many people turn to assisted living or a nursing home as their best solution. Innovative design features are transforming dementia care. Outlined below are design items to consider when searching for a memory support community. In addition to asking about staffing, meals, and other operation issues, take a look at the building’s design and amenities.

  • Glare, bright light, noise, clutter, and interactions between other people are some of the factors that need to be controlled.
  • Contrasting colors between floors, walls, and ceilings to help discern where each starts and ends. Painted walls behind a toilet and/or a colored toilet seat help people find their target.
  • Indoor and outdoor furniture should not tip over or have sharp edges.
  • Doors equipped with two-way locks that cannot trap residents in a room.
  • Visual cues like pictures on drawers and closets to remind residents of the contents. Or a toilet on the door to a public restroom.
  • Lever handles for door and faucets so they are easier to operate.
  • Walking and sitting areas with ample room to protect a person’s “private space” and prevent tripping.
  • Decals on large glassed areas, such as doors or windows.
  • Level floor surfaces. Flooring should have a pattern free of design, avoiding large dark areas that can appear to an Alzheimer’s resident as a hole they might fall into.  Floor surfaces should have a dull finish, not a wet look that can be interpreted as dangerous to walk on.
  • Interior designs need to be simple rather than busy.  Some paisley designs might be interpreted as snakes. Busy patterns can cause confusion or anxiety.
  • Courtyard landscaping that is free of thorny or poisonous items.
  • Security measures to prevent a wanderer from exiting unnoticed thru a door, window, or fence.
  • Life skills stations that contain familiar things for the residents to touch and do.
  • Walls with tactile, three-dimensional artwork that can be touched.
  • A snuggling room that provides a calm, soothing environment to reduces tension, anxiety, and hostility.
  • Nightlights or motion sensitive lights that turn on if a resident gets up from bed during the night. A 24-hour low level light over the toilet.
  • Open shelving and removable bathroom and closet doors in resident apartments to increase visual cueing. Conversely, some people do better with limited access and may require lockable closet doors.
  • Inside and outside wandering paths with built-in areas of interest to occupy and entertain residents along the way. Comfortable places to sit and rest should be included along the pathway.

Joyce Clark is the CEO of Achievis Senior Living Associates. Achievis is a development and consultant company to a variety of long-term care providers.


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