Modern Memory Care Facilities: Building for Safety and Wellbeing

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By: Andy Feth, Project Executive at C.W. Driver Companies

America’s senior population continues to grow with 25% of the populace estimated to be over the age of 65 by the year 2050, compared to only 15.6% today. In that time, the number of adults over 85 is expected to triple, leading to an increased need for assisted living facilities. 


A priority among senior housing today is to expand levels of care to serve residents as their needs change. This includes specialized memory care facilities where staff are trained to care for residents living with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other cognitive loss.

When it comes to selecting a memory care community, families want to be assured that their loved ones will be looked after in a safe, secure environment that contributes to their happiness and wellbeing. Advances in construction, design and technology can play a role in providing a safe and comfortable living environment for seniors needing additional care.

In the case of Grace Gardens, a $25 million memory care facility built for Town & Country in Santa Ana, California, two major goals were addressed in the building and design: the support of health and wellbeing, and the safety of both current and future residents. Here’s a look at the unique design and construction aspects that make up this specialized senior living community, as accomplished by the project team of C.W. Driver Companies and Hochhauser Blatter Architecture & Planning.

Memory Garden and Community Amenities 

Thoughtfully planned community amenities play an important role in the promotion of mobility, social interaction and independence for those living with cognitive impairments. At the center of Grace Gardens is one of the largest garden amenities among memory care facilities in the county. Built on top of a subterranean parking garage, the secured space offers residents 3,000 square-feet of walking paths, trees, flowers, raised gardens and a potting shed for horticulture therapy. With ample seating areas and an outdoor fireplace, the space encourages residents to spend time outside in the open air while providing a comfortable place for family visits, dining or an afternoon spent doing crafts. Additional community amenities include therapeutic kitchens, a sun deck terrace, a full-service bistro, quiet rooms, a beauty salon, activity rooms, lounges and media room.

Design and Architecture

Shaping the design around the unique needs of memory care residents creates an environment that naturally supports mental health. Grace Gardens, a 50,564 square-foot, two-story facility, is laid out into four neighborhoods (two on each floor) with 48 private and semi-private rooms that house up to 88 seniors. Each neighborhood is attuned to different levels of care and functions independently to create a smaller household environment within a larger community. The architecture features high ceilings, extra-wide halls and large arched windows to make the space feel open and provide plenty of natural light. Calming colors are woven throughout the décor with simple carpeting to ensure the space is not so visually “busy” that it confuses or disorients residents. The floorplan is laid out in a circle so that residents never feel “stuck,” and the dining area is easily found as residents walk by. 

Smart + Safe Technology

Housing for people living with cognitive impairment requires additional safety and security implementations. Integrated systems that incorporate technology assist staff in caring for seniors, while also retaining their sense of dignity and ability to enjoy activities. At Grace Gardens, WanderGuard Blue security locks are installed on all exit perimeter doors. Staff and visitors are given individual access codes or badges, limiting the risk of residents accidentally leaving the facility by sharing general codes. Additionally, all residents wear WanderGuard bracelets, which provide staff with real-time location monitoring, geofencing capabilities and alerts if someone wanders into an unexpected area. Further, all resident rooms are outfitted with sensors, so in case of a fall, a signal is sent to caretakers to respond with help.

Safety + Construction

During the construction of any site, great care needs to be taken to ensure the safety of people on site or in neighboring buildings. When building Grace Gardens, the project team faced unique challenges in ensuring the safety of current Town & Country residents, who make up the independent, assisted, skilled nursing and rehabilitation units. The standard emergency exit was blocked by the construction site, which posed significant safety challenges for seniors who should not be crossing the area. The Orange County Fire Department was brought in to consult on the emergency evacuation protocol, and a chain-link tunnel was constructed to both protect pedestrians from the construction site and safely lead them to the street. The team also added an emergency generator as backup for all safety systems in the event of a power outage, which was very important for the various security technologies in place.

As our population ages, specialized facilities are increasingly becoming an essential aspect of senior housing. The building of dedicated spaces that are purposefully designed with the wellness and safety of residents in mind can support senior housing communities and staff in providing their residents with the best quality of life possible.