Category Archives: Memory Care

The Power of Light and Space in Dementia-friendly Environments

Dementia-friendly environments

Designing space and lighting solutions for memory care facilities

In creating a dementia-friendly environment, the right lighting and space design can have an incredibly positive effect on resident quality of life. In fact, both artificial and natural light, as well as space design, can have an impact on emotional and psychological well-being.

How we integrate lighting design into dementia care homes

At Community Living Solutions, we’re dedicated to designing and building senior living communities that get to the heart of what our clients and their residents need. And when it comes to designing dementia-friendly environments, lighting design plays an integral role in not only creating a peaceful, healing environment but also making life easier for those who care for the residents.

Dementia care is complex and can be challenging to manage. So how is it possible that lighting and space—construction aspects that seem deceptively simple—make a difference? The answers may surprise you.

Biodynamic lighting allows us to harness daylight’s biological effects even in an environment with artificial lighting, like senior living communities. These biological effects are profound. Reduced exposure to daylight can lead to sleep problems, mood disorders and chronic fatigue. Meanwhile, biodynamic lighting allows us to mimic the variations of natural daylight through intentional design and light management. From a design and construction perspective, opportunities abound.

First, it’s important to note how lighting is shown to make a significant difference in the lives of senior living residents, in particular residents with dementia.

Tailored lighting intervention is proven to help those living with dementia

According to a recent 12-week study of multiple dementia care communities, increasing indoor exposure to daylight was shown to reduce depression among residents. More, it’s been found that exposure to the right amount of daylight is an effective non-drug treatment for those with dementia. Designing a space that allows for increased daylight exposure for residents could then feasibly improve quality of life for the 20 to 30 percent of individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD).

In addition, appropriately tailored lighting has been shown to alleviate sleep disturbances. Among individuals with ADRD, nighttime wandering is a common concern. By reducing sleep disturbances through lighting design for dementia care homes, facilities can also reduce this phenomenon. Less wandering results in a reduced risk of dangerous falls. Also, a tailored lighting design or intervention that stimulates the resident’s natural sleep and wakefulness cycles are shown to decrease what’s known as “sundowning,” or late-day confusion among dementia patients, while improving behavioral problems and lessening agitation.  One recent study on lighting and Alzheimer’s patients showed at the end of just four weeks of lighting intervention, sleep disturbance and depression dropped significantly, and by the end of six months, sleep disturbance and depression scores dropped by half. Other studies have mirrored these findings while also noting decreased agitation scores.

The power of human-centric lighting

We all know that feeling we get when we’re outdoors and the sun just begins to dip below the horizon, the drowsiness that accompanies a rainy day or the joy of seeing the sun spread its golden light across the horizon in the morning. The role light plays in our mood and wellbeing is proven to us time and again, almost without us noticing it. With human-centric lighting, we design lighting while keeping in mind how it affects the many aspects of our lives. That means human-centric lighting is designed to optimize:

  • Mood
  • Productivity
  • Perception
  • Circadian rhythms
  • Visual acuity
  • Sustainability

How well we can see is central to a number of our needs, from our sense of safety and wellbeing to our health, mood, task performance, social communication and aesthetic judgment. As a result, how we see and perceive our environment impacts our emotions, motivations, behavior and even our long-term memory.

Through biodynamic lighting in design for dementia care homes, we are able to send the appropriate cues to our bodies by mimicking the appropriate outdoor lighting for everything from dawn to daylight to dusk, including the nuances of an overcast sky, mid-afternoon sun rays and even sunset. Lighting “dose” can be adjusted for intensity, duration, timing and more, and it can be customized for individual environments, including resident rooms, community rooms and general areas.

Recommendations for creating dementia-friendly environments with light

Now that we recognize the potential for lighting in senior living environments and how it factors in dementia care, here are some recommendations for designing and building a dementia-friendly environment.

  • Maximize resident exposure to daylight during the day, but especially in the morning
  • Evenly illuminate spaces, to minimize contrast and especially shadows
  • Minimize exposure to blue-rich light sources after 8 p.m.
  • Use amber, or warm light sources, after sunset
  • Create dark environments for sleeping
  • Avoid using artificial light sources during the night
  • Be mindful of quality of life over quantity of light

Facility design for dementia care homes

In addition to lighting interventions, use of space and purposeful wandering capability for residents improves quality of life for individuals with dementia. From an architectural perspective, it’s important to design a home-like environment for residents, one which engages the senses, reduces confusion and feels familiar. Common areas that feel homey, including living room-like spaces and comfortable dining areas, go a long way in comparison to the hospital-like environments in the past.

Purposeful wandering has been shown to reduce agitation and confusion. Incorporating purposeful wandering into your design can be done in several ways:

  • Minimize dead-end corridors
  • Create activity areas to encourage movement
  • Design nourishment areas where residents have easy access to snacks
  • Develop sitting nodes, for a sense of place
  • Build interior, secured courtyards as a special focus for community spaces, and a safe place for residents to connect with nature
  • Organize life stations for residents to display familiar images and items
  • Incorporate memory boxes into wall spaces

Lighting and space: new frontiers in building a dementia-friendly environment

At Community Living Solutions, we’re eager to help you design the future of your dementia care home. From lighting to space design and more, our experts are ready to help you create a senior living community that provides the highest possible quality of life for residents while achieving your business goals.

If you are interested in seeing how we can help you develop senior care solutions and design for dementia care homes, request a consultation through our Contact page or call us at (920) 969-9344.

5 Tips for Dementia Garden Design

Use outdoor spaces to create positive senior community living experiences

Gardens and other thriving outdoor spaces provide significant benefits to residents in senior living communities. For residents who have a passion for gardening, giving them opportunities to tend flowers and vegetables not only keeps them physically active, it also stimulates the brain. This is especially true for those living with memory loss. Even if they don’t spend time digging in the dirt, having the opportunity to relax in an outdoor garden space offers numerous health benefits.

If you are interested in adding an outdoor space to your facility, we have several dementia garden design tips, whether you are planning one for your current facility or are considering one for an upcoming construction project.

Why a dementia garden is important

It’s estimated that 7.7 million people are diagnosed with dementia annually throughout the world. A majority of those living with memory loss reside in a senior living community. And, a 2014 study found that residents with memory loss—as well as their families and facility staff—benefited greatly from having access to outdoor gardens.

Specifically, the study found that outdoor spaces:

  • Promote relaxation
  • Encourage physical and mental activity
  • Stimulate multiple senses
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Trigger fond memories

In fact, according to one horticulture expert, the sense of smell from fresh herbs and flowers connects “to the limbic system in our brain, which affects memory and mood.” And, happier, less stressed dementia residents are likely to have a positive effect on the mood of your staff and their families.

Studies also have found that just having a view of nature helped surgery patients recover faster and take less medication than patients who did not have access to a natural setting. Therefore, those who are recovering from an illness or medical procedure would benefit from access to outdoor spaces.

The importance of dementia garden design

As you consider planning for a garden and other outdoor spaces, keep these dementia garden ideas in mind:

  • Provide residents easy access, especially for those who are less ambulatory, to the garden from your facility. If you have enough space, set up pathways so that residents can walk shorter or longer routes, depending upon their abilities.
  • Consider creating an outdoor space with a circular design, including paths that guide residents. Dead-end pathways can cause confusion and anxiety.
  • Develop the garden in an area that can be easily seen from indoors. Includes plants that have visual appeal throughout all seasons, such as shrubs or ornamental trees that sprout red berries in the fall and winter. Include bird boxes and feeders for an added attraction.
  • Include seating and shade for those with less stamina. Seating also provides a reason to sit and visit with family and friends. You may also consider water fountains in these areas for added sensory stimulation and relaxation.
  • Include low-maintenance plants that also are easily recognized by your residents. This will help trigger their memories of their homes and a time when they tended to gardens of their own.
  • Avoid potential hazards like steps and slippery material surfaces, ensuring safe and secure pathways that incorporate decorative railings and fences.

Activities beyond the dementia garden

Besides giving residents the opportunity to tend to flowers, vegetables and other plants, having a garden at your facility offers ideas for other activities:

  • Ask a local florist to teach a basic flower arranging class using flowers from your garden. Display the arrangements throughout your facility or gift them to other residents or staff members. Participants will benefit from making social connections, as well as from physical and mental stimulation.
  • Host events in your garden, such as a garden party, a picnic or even a movie night.
  • Considering decorating the garden for each holiday. Seek help from residents whenever possible.

Ask us for a consultation

If you are considering a dementia garden design for your senior living community, or would like to evaluate your outdoor space, contact us or call (920) 969-9344 to schedule a free introductory meeting.

If you care for those living with memory loss, you may also be interested in reading our Interior Design for Dementia Homes blog.

Interior Design for Dementia Care Homes

How to use color and design elements to improve quality of life

We all know that as our bodies age, the way we see things changes—quite literally. Cataracts and other issues cloud and distort vision so that colors and designs are not as sharp and vivid to an older eye. But, did you know that dementia and Alzheimer’s disease changes our vision even further? The brain of those living with memory loss interprets what the eye sees differently than those who have better memory function. As a result, choices in design elements may impact a person’s feeling of safety and security so that interior design for dementia care homes needs to be carefully planned to ensure residents feel comfortable in their surroundings.

How the brains of memory care residents differ

Besides struggling with memory recall, those living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease lose depth perception. According to online mental health resource PsychCentral, “A light fixture flush with a nine-foot-high ceiling may seem to them to be reachable while standing on the floor … A strip of black linoleum visible around the edges of a light carpet can be interpreted to be a bottomless pit ….”

Added to that, these seniors have an especially difficult time interpreting shapes and other visual cues in poor lighting, both lighting that is dim and casts shadows or light that glares, as from a bright window.

3 elements to consider in interior design for dementia care homes

If you are looking to design a new facility or remodel your current space, there are three design elements to consider when creating welcoming spaces for those with memory loss. Some of these ideas are so simple, you could easily make some changes even if you are not undertaking a larger building project.


Not only does sufficient lighting increase safety and aid in wayfinding, studies have found that seniors who spend much of their time in well-lit spaces sleep better and exhibit fewer episodes of anger or other disruptive emotions. The Lighting Research Center estimates that seniors need about 70 percent more light than they did in their earlier years to see objects. LED lighting design helps in meeting these needs. LED lights also can be mounted under beds for better wayfinding for residents and third-shift caretakers, as well as under mirrors and along handrails.

To reduce glare from a window bouncing off objects, use carpet and sheer window treatments. Also, consider the glare that could be caused from light reflecting on art work that is behind glass.


It’s best to keep interior design simple—like carpeting, furniture and even bedspreads—for Alzheimer’s patients and others living with memory loss. Complex patterns and prints will confuse these residents, maybe even leading them to believe objects are moving. In addition, residents may interpret patterns on floors, like checkered rugs, as holes they may step in or steps up or down. Even a dark throw rug placed on a light-colored floor could be mistaken for an unsafe hole.

This simplicity extends to the amount of décor, as well. Less is more for those with memory loss, as clutter can confuse them to the point where they will shut down and be less active.

Color contrast

Like the example of a dark rug on a light floor, color contrast extends to other interior design elements. Chair colors should contrast with floors so the senior clearly sees where to sit. Even tablecloths and table settings have an impact on seniors. Contrasting the plate color with either a placemat or tablecloth will allow your residents to see their food and eat more. Research also has shown that bright plates stimulate appetites.

The best colors for dementia patients

While specific colors may or may not be better for people living with memory loss, we do know that aging eyes distort colors. And, certain colors can make spaces appear or feel smaller or larger, warmer or cooler.

When choosing colors for your facility, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Colors can help define an area, improving wayfinding and reminding residents of where they are based on the color.
  • Color contrasts between floors and walls can improve balance in people who have poor vision.
  • High color contrasts in small spaces can cause eyestrain and perhaps headaches.

In addition, it’s important to remember that seniors cannot easily distinguish between blues and greens, so avoid attempting to differentiate two things—like a sign and wall—with these like colors. Also, many people are colorblind and are unable to see the difference between red and green.

Contact our interior design experts

Considerations for how interior design affects those living with memory loss has become such a hot topic, there is even an app developed by Alzheimer’s Australia for those who can use help, especially in private homes. With so much to consider in interior design for dementia care homes, the task can be daunting. But, we are here to help.

If you are interested in learning more about architectural design and facility planning to enhance memory care, read our Memory Care Facility Design blog. As specialists in senior living community design and construction, Community Living Solutions can help you design, remodel or build a memory care facility to enhance your marketability. For your free consultation, contact Terry McLaughlin at 920-969-9344.

If you are interested in learning how outdoor spaces can improve the health of those living with memory loss, read our Dementia Garden Design blog.

Person-Centered Care for Dementia



What we can learn from Hogeweyk and other unique care villages

Hogeweyk, a village in the Netherlands made up of seniors living with dementia and their caretakers, was developed in 2009 after a nearly 20-year stint as a traditional nursing home. The concept captures attention in our industry for its innovative approach to caring for people with memory loss. Since Hogeweyk’s inception, other similar villages followed the unique design, both in the United States and abroad. Much of Hogeweyk’s design features a host of activities that focus on individual tastes—a part of what we have now come to know as person-centered care for dementia.

If you haven’t heard about Hogeweyk, it’s a village of 23 homes, a grocery store, entertainment venues and parklike spaces. While a resident can shop in the store or even buy a beer at a pub, for those with advanced dementia, the currency they use is fake. But, to them, the experience of living in this village is very real.

Rising needs for memory care

As we reported in our “Memory Care Facility Design” blog last March, as baby boomers age, we can expect a significant uptick in the need for memory care. The industry is already responding, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care (NIC). The NIC says that at the end of 2015, the industry added more than 7,000 memory care units in 2015 alone, a 7.4 percent increase. At the end of 2015, 12,200 memory care units were under construction.

It may come as no surprise, then, that those who are preparing for an influx of residents needing memory care look to unique practices for ideas on how to provide the best care to this population. That’s where person-centered care for dementia finds success.

Memory care trends point to person-centered care

Very few in the industry have the financial ability to build a village, but the feeling of inclusion and independence is something that can be replicated. Although more than 150 people live in the village, it remains a great example of person-centered care. Studies have shown that in person-centered care, dementia patients respond positively to participating in activities they personally enjoy, having a say in their care and living in a homelike environment.

LeadingAge discussed some ways members are making personal connections—and therefore focusing on the individual—in memory care. Here are just a few of the ideas:

  • A senior living community in Louisville, Ky., learns the life story of residents before they enter care. Residents are paired with a “best friend,” who helps make connections to their life before they entered a senior living community.
  • This same facility uses these life stories to find ways to calm agitated residents. A former lawyer is given a legal brief to read when he becomes upset; a former baker is given flour to work with, as if to make biscuits.
  • Many communities find other ways for residents to participate in activities that were once a big part of their lives. For example, pianists and singers entertain or lead religious service hymns.

It’s important to also note that person-centered care focuses as much on what individuals don’t like to do. One Texas administrator pointed to the popular activity of bingo as an example of understanding individual tastes, “Some people absolutely hate the number calling … and the repetitiveness. Why are you going to put someone in that position if it’s something that they don’t tolerate?”

Ask us how we can help

As you can see, you don’t need to build an entire village to find ways to implement person-centered care for dementia. But, you will need to find ways—inside and outside of your facility—to accommodate residents’ favored activities. Nature lovers will appreciate courtyards and walking trails. Artists may want a quiet, well-lit area to practice their craft.

If you are considering remodeling your community to accommodate memory care patients or are thinking about adding a memory care unit to your current facility, give us a call. Our process begins with a master plan that includes a market analysis. For your free consultation, contact Terry McLaughlin at 920-969-9344.

Memory Care Facility Design

New ways for caring for someone with dementia

There has been a boom in the construction of senior memory care facilities in recent years, and one of the primary drivers is the increase in people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

As the United States population ages, the number of people suffering from memory loss will grow. It’s estimated that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 10 men who live past age 55 will develop some form of dementia during their lifetime.

Of all the different forms of dementia in seniors, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form, making up about 70 percent of elderly dementia cases. Approximately 5.2 million Americans age 65 and older have it, and as seniors reach the age of 85, between 25 and 50 percent of people will show signs of the disease.

This data shows that caring for someone with dementia in a specialized memory care facility is not just becoming more common, but is a necessity. Thoughtful memory care facility design and programs can greatly improve the quality of life for those living with memory loss.

Considerations for memory care facility design

Because of the special challenges that residents living with memory loss can face, memory care facilities should be designed a little differently than other senior care centers.

  • People living with memory loss have a tendency to wander. Rather than confine them to a small area of a memory care facility, provide ample space for them to roam with no confusing dead-end hallways. A courtyard and common areas in the middle of a facility give residents plenty of space to wander around while meeting and interacting with others.
  • Another feature that is becoming more popular is a life skill station. These interactive tools replicate everyday functions, such as putting away dishes, checking the mail, holding and caring for a doll, creating art, and other hobbies and activities. These stations jumps-start residents’ memories, getting them interested and active.

Dementia care facilities can reignite memories by engaging the senses

Many different sensory functions can trigger a memory in those dealing with dementia. The right sounds and colors can have a profound impact on residents’ daily quality of life.

  • In a facility for Alzheimer’s patients and others living with memory loss, themed areas can trigger memories for residents. These themes can have their own color scheme and décor, giving residents a certain feeling when they visit these areas. For example, an ocean-themed wing may use varying shades of blue and have artwork and photos on the wall depicting water scenes. These areas can also have customized flooring appropriate to the theme.
  • Implementing sensory stimulation has positive effects when caring for someone with memory loss. Several years ago, a study showed that brightly colored fish helped curtail disruptive behaviors and improved the eating habits of residents with dementia. Another form of sensory therapy involves Snoezelen, or a controlled multisensory environment (MSE). These rooms allow residents to control their own therapy through light, sounds, textures and smells that help them relax and feel a sense of control.
  • A Dutch company developed stickers that transform a plain room door to a door that replicates a door from the residents’ past. The result is a bit of nostalgia that comforts those living with memory loss.

Comfortably caring for residents with memory loss

Any memory care facility design should look and feel like a home. Using the right colors, patterns and furnishings makes it feel warm, welcome and comforting, putting residents instantly at ease. A good rule is to ask yourself if you’d enjoy the colors and furnishings in your own home. If so, it’s likely to be well received by other residents.

If you’re looking to deliver the best in memory care facilities, contact Community Living Solutions. We can work with you to design a successful memory care unit or facility. Contact Terry McLaughlin, or call 920-969-9344 to discuss plans.