Design Strategies for Memory Care Centers to Meet the Needs of Dementia Patients

A well-designed memory care facility can make residents less anxious by its mindful design, reducing the amount of prescription drugs the residents need.

If your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, you should try to find a quality memory care facility that incorporates the best elements of design tailored to people with dementia. When a long-term care facility designates part of an existing center to memory care, they often try to retrofit the space for people with dementia care. Unless the memory care center employs design concepts that address common aspects of dementia, the facility itself can actually increase the residents’ anxiety, sleep disturbances, wandering, falls, injuries and need for medications.

A well-designed memory care facility can make residents less anxious by its mindful design, reducing the amount of prescription drugs the residents need. Here are some design strategies for memory care centers to meet the needs of dementia patients.

Ground Floor Is Problematic

Every winter, there are tragic news stories of dementia patients who wander outside and succumb to the elements. Despite this fact, many facilities have their memory care rooms on the first floor. A better plan is to have the Alzheimer’s portion of the center on the third floor, with multiple security points, locked doors and keypads between the memory care residents and the great outdoors.

Speaking of the Great Outdoors

Having ready access to safe, peaceful spaces outside can reduce anxiety for people with dementia. One facility uses the roof of an adjacent building for the memory care garden. The space has lovely plants, seating for individuals and small groups and discreet fencing to keep the residents safe. There is even a non-functional classic Cadillac for residents to sit in and reminisce. You would not realize that venue is a rooftop garden.

Circular Walking Paths Indoors and Out

When an older person moves away from her home, she might get confused and feel lost. She might walk around, trying to find her home. She might simply feel restless and have a need to walk. An accessible circular walking path in the garden can satisfy her need.

The interior layout of the facility should not have long hallways that end with doors. When an exit door is the destination of the hall, it is logical the resident will try to open the door. Instead, the layout should have a social room, kitchen, restroom, or other room at the end of a hallway.

Design Principles for Memory Care Facilities

Savvy design will camouflage exit doors, place them to the left or right of hallways and use keypad locks that do not look as if they guard Fort Knox. By nature, human beings do not thrive in an institutional setting. The more the memory care facility looks like a home and less like an institution, the happier and healthier the residents will be.

Since memory loss is central to memory care centers, the residents should not have to remember their room numbers. Well-placed personal objects next to the door should readily identify the room for the resident.

Another tailored design feature is to do away with nursing stations and staff uniforms. Having the staff dress in regular clothing and eliminating the nursing stations makes the facility feel more residential. When people feel at home, their anxiety levels go down and they need fewer medications.


A Place for Mom. “Alzheimer’s Care Facilities Design.” (accessed August 21, 2019)

Suggested Key Terms: designing memory care facilities, what to look for in a dementia care facility

About the author

Bob Brumfield

Attorney Bob Brumfield has been practicing law since 1984 and regularly receives the “Top Lawyers in California” award as well as the “Client Distinction” and “Client Champion” awards from Martindale-Hubbell.

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