A New Concept in Memory Care
As we think about how we’ll grow old, we don’t often see ourselves becoming less comfortable with who we are, becoming confused more often and losing our sense of purpose. But for millions of Americans, that’s exactly what happens when dementia enters their lives.
Designing for those with memory disabilities is an emerging field for which healthcare providers have increasingly recognized a need, but struggle to integrate effective options into existing facilities, especially. So, maybe it’s time to think outside.
What Is It?
A memory playground is a carefully designed outdoor space that connects people closely to nature and uses elements of daily life to create opportunities to play, socialize, regenerate and heal. While it is one of the newest concepts in residential healthcare, it takes hold of one of the oldest truths — nature has the power to heal.
Memory Playground Benefits
By using elements of day-to-day life, a memory playground creates an environment of compassion that supports the mission of a caring facility. A well-designed connection to nature shows the residents and their families alike that the residents are vital people who still have the ability and the right to enjoy their lives, despite limitations.
Positive elements allow residents to disengage their focus from aspects that may frustrate them on a daily basis, such as limited mobility, medication issues, pain and lack of choice.
A variety of seating spaces allow residents to choose the level of engagement and social interaction – they are given the opportunity to join others, or simply find a personal refuge.
The variety of spaces and activities in the design increases the likelihood that residents will find something that will allow them to engage in physical activity.
A close collaboration between the designer and healthcare providers can lead to specific elements of the memory playground assisting with specific therapies, including physical, occupational and horticultural. In addition, healing gardens have shown to help increase staff efficiency and reduce turnover.
Engaging with nature has been shown to reduce the need for some medications and curb aggressive behavior in those with memory disabilities.
Design & Elements
The most important elements of the design of a memory playground have to do with the arrangement of the spaces and giving the users a choice in how they experience it. Staged engagement is the process of connecting residents to nature and getting them out into the gardens. And it all begins on the inside of the building.
Stage one includes providing views of the garden from within the facility, initially helping to connect with nature and enticing residents to explore further.
Stage two includes providing comfortable spaces just outside the door, which is important for engaging curious residents not confident enough to explore the whole garden.
Stage three provides clear views and walkways to fully experience a variety of elements.
Stage four, perhaps the most important when designing for those with memory and physical limitations, provides a clear understanding of how someone may return to the entrance or where they feel comfortable. Clear sight lines and a figure 8 are the most effective for this, allowing residents to move around without finding a dead end or losing their way, which could lead to agitation and frustration.
Making It Happen
A memory playground for a new facility is a concept that should be discussed not just with the architect, but with the landscape architect. A certified healthcare garden designer can be invaluable in the earliest planning stages and help work through how to plan the facility to integrate the memory playground, and include opportunities for specific therapies into the design.
Designing a memory playground for an existing facility is entirely feasible, but requires a few key considerations. Does the facility have an area large enough in close proximity to the building? Are there building access points to and from the area that can be carefully controlled? Are there already public areas inside with a view to the outdoors?
The ideal time to implement a memory playground is in the design of a new facility or in the context of a significant memory care expansion. In order to generate momentum behind any new concept in therapy and care, it may be necessary to present some careful planning and research to the facility’s owners and management. In addition, the single best way to craft a strategy for success is to work with the staff from the outset and create enthusiastic advocates.
Finally, when looking at funding strategies, it’s possible to use the garden to pay for the garden. Each different element and walkway is a donor opportunity. Each mailbox, garden box, bench, golf green and paver could be used as a sponsorship or memorial vehicle, generating most or all of the funds needed to construct and maintain the project.
Implementing a new model in residential healthcare therapy may have its challenges, but a creative design, a clear plan and an enthusiastic staff can lead to an entirely new way of caring for those with memory disabilities.
To learn more or to brainstorm the implementation of a memory playground in your area, contact the design professionals at Vireo.
tel: 816-756-5690 email: firstname.lastname@example.org