Have you ever planned a trip to a different country? If you have, you probably enlisted the advice of friends and experts to help you find out about the best places to see, where to stay, and how to get around easily.

Designing a memory care environment is similar in that it helps to listen to experts and to the persons for whom you’re designing the space. It’s also helpful to research evidence so that you can count on using the best information available to guide your design decisions, and to make sure that dementia training for CNAs, nursing and other front line staff is a compliment to environment you have designed.

Here are 5 tips to start with:

1. Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach.
Because dementia care is so complex, we tend to look for black-and-white answers to use over and over. Try to avoid falling into this mindset and look at the project as new and unique. Wayfinding cues that work in a facility in an urban area may not be as successful for a resident population with rural backgrounds.

2. Educate yourself on the common effects of aging.
Whether we have dementia or not, we all experience changes in our vision, balance, strength, etc. as we age. Consult experts, such as an occupational therapist, to better understand how these normal effects of aging impact a person with dementia, and design accordingly.

3. Read all you can on lighting.
In the past, environments for persons with dementia tended to be in the back of the building, looking very institutional and featuring either institutional lighting or very poor lighting with little to no access to natural light. Research indicates that tunable lighting can have a powerful impact on normalizing circadian rhythms for persons with dementia, and it can promote healthy periods of rest and activity.

4. Create familiarity.
Long-term memory is a strength for persons with dementia. Use that as a basis for designing spaces and providing furnishings that will tap into that long-term memory. What types of bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, etc. would be familiar to the age group you’re designing for? Evidence indicates that the physical environment can lead to improved quality of life, a slowed rate of progression of the disease, and a reduced need for medication. Your designs have power.

5. Think safety and function.
A secured environment shouldn’t take away a person’s functional independence. An environment for persons with dementia should feel secure but not jail-like. Look for opportunities to promote feelings of freedom and function. Provide indoor walking paths with interesting destinations so that inclement weather doesn’t make residents feel locked in. Provide accessible kitchens in which residents have the freedom to get a snack or drink. Create hobby areas where they can be creative independently and safely.

These are just a few tips for designing a dementia-capable memory care environment. I hope you’ll join me at EFA 2017, where you can learn how to design person-centered, dementia-stage-informed environments that enable persons with dementia to thrive, that appeal to owners and families, and that sustain efficacy for years to come.

Learn more about my pre-conference workshop at the event, and watch a personal invitation from me to you!