By: Greg Irwin, AIA As a long-time senior housing architectural firm, Irwin Partners Architects is frequently discussing with its clients, what kind of design scheme works best for their dementia model.  We are also frequently asked what a dementia building should look like for them.  At times it is frustrating to be asked this question and other times it makes you want to laugh. 

We try to explain to people that there is no  standard approved dementia building that everyone wants.  There are numerous concepts that have been used in the past 15-20 years for many different reasons. Here are the most commonly seen designs:

  • Pod designs
  • Corridors based designs
  •  A series of home-like buildings, housing a dozen or so residents on a single campus
  • Remodels from Assisted living to Dementia
  • Home conversions
  • Large communities
  • Small communities
  • Multiple levels of care including memory care.

In have talking with many organizations about their design philosophy, each one has solid reasons why they believe in their concepts.  Each group tends to have similar philosophies, but priorities them in different orders.   The re-arrangement of priorities surprisingly has created lots of options that have spread into other types of car.  Some of the priorities that are defining success,  the purpose and money.

Defining Success

As they say, Success is in the eye of the beholder.  It this case we need to decide who the beholder is; the resident, the family, the operations or the profits the project can generate.  We would like to believe that its about the resident and there quality of life.   It is when they are laughing or smiling.  It is when they are calm. It is when they are participating in activities.  It is when their families think they are happy.  Unfortunately, with this terrible disease, these outcomes are not as easy as asking a question and getting an answer and becomes each developers question to answer


After touring and designing many dementia communities I am convinced there is no single model that is demonstrably better than another.  I have found there are several key considerations in choosing the right design concepts:

1.  Humans are all unique – I have often thought it would be interesting to create a memory care campus that had different styles of buildings.  I believe that some residents may do better in one design and that others do better in another design.  This makes sense, because we don’t all want or need the same things in our personal residents today.  Some people like loud music and others want a quiet place to be by themselves.

2.  It Depends on Management Philosophy –   When it comes to management philosophy, it seems more about prioritize and in what order you organize them.  Is it important to view every unit.  Is it important to be able to have activity zones.  Is it important to have quiet areas.  The important factor is that the design, support the philosophy of the operation.

3.  Realistic vs. Idealistic –  In working with the design of a project many times it comes down to realistic situations, not idealistic goals.  Can you fit what you want on the property you have to meet your idealistic ideas.  Does the weather, staffing, food services influence a buildings design.  We all have goals and dreams for projects, but at the end of the day we need to be able to building, manage them and make money.

Return on Investment

Every community needs to pencil out financially.  The profit schedule may change if the company is a for profit or not-for-profit, but rarely does any business set out to loose money.  What market is the project going after,  high profile or afford ability.  This perhaps sounds cynical, but ultimately communities will not make a profit if they are not meeting the needs of residents and their families.   I would be interesting in hearing what works for you and why it works? Irwin Partners Architects was founded in 1966 by Carl Irwin and has been working in the senior housing sector since the late 60’s.  We have worked on over 300 dementia projects since the 80’s.  When it comes to dementia care, we can help you figure out what works for you and your market.  

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Finally: If you know anyone who is looking at emergency call systems I would appreciate the opportunity to talk with them about Vigil Health Solutions.