Design Strategies for Memory Care

You Can Adhere to Regulations and Still Have Bold Design!

An innovative Hallway Design can go a long way in evoking good memories while creating a safe environment for residents.. @Kathy Bradway

There are many old stereotypes when it comes to memory care design. While respecting the research that deals with colors, patterns, sights and sounds, let’s explore some bold design ideas that can actually uplift residents’ lives.

To “bland down” a facility to avoid the possibility of a small percentage that might have certain issues is not fair to the majority of the residents who would enjoy and thrive in a livelier environment.

By giving your facility destinations for your residents to arrive in with varying themes and color schemes residents can gravitate to where they are most comfortable. Some examples:

  • themed rooms with a vintage flare
  • areas with a masculine feel
  • tranquil spaces
  • vibrant garden spaces

It is important to make each space unique and interesting just like your residents are. Give to them the best of what is available in design and then adapt it to their unique needs.


Recent research shows that color in patient’s surroundings tends to lift spirits. Some will suggest using pastels or muted colors; to keep the residents and special needs patients ‘calm’. However if a color is too washed out it loses its impact.

Go for mid-tones. The right color and shade can bring to mind good memories. Shades are very important; yellows should be warm and buttery. If done correctly, it is the color that brings life to a room.

Regarding greens, they should be warm as well; stay away from shades with grey. Greens should remind you grass, ferns, and velvety moss on tree trunks. Look for colors that ignite feelings; coral. Coral is a bright color, but much softer than red, and warm like a sunset or a rose. Blues are great for memory care.

Shades of aqua and deep blue’s can bring to mind the sea and rolling, soothing waves. Set off your colors white contrast trim to make them pop.


There is never a clear line on right or wrong when it comes to patterns. Using bold prints can carry a room and add feeling; creating a space where people want to go, not have to go. Using a variety of colors and patterns in sitting rooms, residents can go where they feel most comfortable.

The dining rooms, however, are a different story. Most every resident has to go in the dining room, so opt for a more conservative yet punchy approach.


Nothing says I am an institution like a long hallway. Yet on most existing facilities that were built in the 90’s the hallway issue is a hurdle to get over.

  • Break up the hallway by applying borders in the carpet or mixing up flooring elements. Be careful of height variations and texture changes.
  • Adding arches every 20 feet or so can add interest
  • Decorative painting can transform an ordinary hallway to a quaint village or shoreline with a sunset.
  • Little touches such as awnings and lampposts can transport a resident to the small town of their child hood.
  • While often codes won’t allow built-ins in halls ways to store medical equipment look for other options such as attractive storage units on wheels to keep medical equipment out of hallways.

By making each hallway unique and providing a individualized entry to resident rooms it helps residents provide a mental map and can eliminate aimless wandering.

Remember senior living is where people live. So often the same elements used in hospitality (hotels) are placed in senior facilities. But people do not live in hotels. Senior residences need a more residential feel.

In memory care it is important to weigh cautions put forth in the past with new creative solutions to encourage memory and stimulate good feelings, thus adding inspiration to the lives of residents. Offering a flat boring design to every patient is equal to handing him or her the same medication. Yet outdated design theories seem to recycle over and over again as if they are applicable to all in a memory care unit.

There are times when triggering memories can produce positive results, yet when only partial memories ignite, it can cause frustration and confusion. So how do we address this in the memory care unit.?

Realize that one thing all residents share is today and this moment. So by creating interiors that trigger happy feelings and inspire smiles you are enriching their lives daily. And that is important when you have diverse cultures among residents.

At the same time your design choices send a message about how you care. And that resonates and further results in word of mouth marketing that will attract yet more boomers and caregivers to consider your residence as a place for mom and dad.

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