By 2050, the number of senior Americans with Alzheimer’s or some other kind of dementia is estimated to reach 13.8 million, triple the number affected today. Renovations to an assisted living wing at The Grove are an example of the way medical research influences thoughtful design solutions and interventions to support these individuals in their living environments.
In the first phase of a project that eventually will convert a 16 resident apartment wing to an 18 resident apartment wing with new common areas for activities, dining, a serving kitchen, and living space, designers worked with the client to employ “small house project” concepts, lighting strategies, spaces for continued learning and an outdoor garden to stimulate residents in day-to-day activities.
Small House, Big Benefits
Increased density was a challenge. The solution was smaller bedrooms to encourage residents to get out of their rooms and into a larger common space for sociability and activity. The first phase clusters nine bedrooms around a central living/dining/ kitchen area with furniture and finishes that feel like home. Another challenge was working with existing structural bearing walls, and plumbing, with occupied floors above and below, especially as one a major goal was to create an open feel with lots of daylight. The decision to locate the heart of the home by maximizing a pre-existing open corridor at the corner was key, as it is central to the cluster of nine rooms, provides the best opportunity for daylight, and is adjacent to the memory garden to encourage maximum activity.
Living and Learning
A serendipitous moment was the opportunity to split two oversized rooms at the end of the hall to create an activity room with French doors and marry it with a new concept in memory care: SAIDO Learning. The SAIDO movement, developed in Japan, challenges residents with 30 minutes of math, reading and writing, at least five days a week, and has been proven to reverse or slow the progress of dementia. The Grove is the first facility in New England to employ the method. The room required a 24” x 72” table to allow a caregiver to sit on one side and two residents on the other (sometimes in wheelchairs). The other criteria was good task lighting and storage for the SAIDO Learning supplies. The abundance of natural light also was essential, as research shows it contributes to learning and productivity. The addition of French Doors at the entrance allow for shared natural light while opening up the view from the corridor to the outside.
Light and Rhythm
By maximizing southern exposure and opening up the floor plan, there is not a location on the floor where residents cannot see a window to the outside. This helps regulate circadian rhythm, without which can lead to sleep disorders in older adults. As residents typically spend a great deal of time indoors, the ability to visually connect to day vs. night is important. Using predominantly LED sources, Designers also increased artificial light levels in the spaces and introduced a warm light temperature to achieve a calming affect at night.
Color and Wayfinding
Colors and finishes were chosen with respect to degenerating vision in seniors. Contrasting colors between vertical and horizontal surfaces help residents feel boundaries. Subtle changes in floor patterns add interest and define space without adding too much contrast that can be disconcerting for older adults. Apartment entrances are defined by residential wall sconces, and customizable photo frames designed to help residents identify their rooms.
Front Porches and Flowers
Nothing feels more like home than a front porch and a garden evoking color and scents. A circuitous path is one of discovery, revealing a series of flower beds to attract butterflies and birds. A raised bed invites resident gardeners to plant and weed. Residents can visit with family and friends on the porch or patios. The Grove’s Memory Garden is designed intentionally to provide a full sensory experience in a safe environment.