Can the Design of a Memory Care Community Encourage Your Mom to Make New Friendships at 85?

Can the Design of a Memory Care Community Encourage Your Mom to Make New Friendships at 85?

Can the Design of a Memory Care Community Encourage Your Mom to Make New Friendships at 85?

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As we age, maintaining social connections becomes increasingly important, especially for those dealing with memory-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Memory care assisted living communities support individuals with these conditions, offering a comfortable and familiar environment. A key aspect of these communities is their design, which can facilitate friendships among residents.

Understanding the needs of an elder with memory loss allowed Episcopal Church Home (ECH) to thoughtfully design their memory care households to promote social interactions and foster meaningful relationships. Recently, ECH invested more than $1M to renovate their memory care personal care households.  With some subtle changes, residents, families, and staff witnessed the benefits firsthand how design can spur community and relationships.

Episcopal Church Home is part of the Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS) system.  ERS created the Center for Memory Support and Inclusion (CMSI) in 2020 to create intimate living environments, quality programming and care, innovative training programs, and community outreach to make safe and welcoming spaces for those with memory loss.  Megan Bradford, ERS’ Vice President of Middle Market and Ministry, shared, “Our memory support households at ECH highlight the benefits that design can bring to our care and support for those living with memory loss.”  The household design encourages function, cueing, and socialization, which together assist those with dementia.

Common Areas and Shared Spaces

A well-designed memory care community should have numerous common areas and shared spaces to encourage socialization. These areas serve as central hubs for activities and interactions, helping residents to connect with one another.

Living Rooms: Living rooms are familiar even to those with memory loss.  A familiar space, such as a living room, acts as a welcoming space and is often the first point of contact for residents and visitors. With comfortable seating and a warm atmosphere, the living room invites residents to sit, relax, and engage in conversations. "The living room is often buzzing with activity. It's heartwarming to see our residents interact with other residents and their families there," shares Bryan Berman, Household Coordinator for ECH’s memory care household.  As many have in their home, ECH’s living room has built-in cabinets, a fireplace, and comfortable seating.  Unlike an institution or lounge in a waiting room or office, the living room feels familiar.  Even with memory loss, the environment feels like home.

Kitchen and Dining Areas: They say the kitchen is the heart of the home.  Communal dining is a cornerstone of memory care communities. Shared meals provide regular opportunities for residents to socialize, share stories, and develop friendships. ECH opted for an open kitchen design.  “Being able to see and smell a meal being prepared can stimulate appetite and generate memories of cooking in one’s own home,” shares Bradford.  Dining family-style with other residents can also help residents recall memories of sharing meals with family and friends.  Debbie Cahill, whose mom, Debbie Cecil, lives at ECH, enjoys watching her mother dine with friends.  “I can see she enjoys being with her friends and sharing a meal.”

The dining rooms have artwork that is specifically designed for memory care.  “Our dining rooms have shadow boxes that have items that we can use to reminisce,” shared Bradford.  Seeing an old wooden rolling pin or lace apron may help a resident recall baking pies with  with a parent or grandparent   Team members also use the shadow boxes to start conversations with the residents over meals.  The conversations among the residents build connections and foster friendships.

Activity Rooms: Dedicated spaces for hobbies and activities such as art, music, or games create natural meeting points for residents with similar interests. Scheduled group activities in these rooms promote participation and interaction. "I love seeing the residents engage in arts and crafts together. It brings out their creativity and sparks conversations," says Berman.

ECH offers a wide variety of activities, most of which are held in the activity room.  Favorites include chair exercises, painting, and bingo.  In fact, Cahill’s  mom often talks about some of the games that they play.  “The best part about the activities is the prizes offered to the winners. It is fun to play and win!” shared Debbie Cecil with a grin, showing she still has a competitive side.  Competition aside, Debbie enjoys activities with her friends.

Outdoor Spaces: Gardens, patios, and walking paths offer residents a place to enjoy nature, relax, and engage in casual conversations. These spaces are particularly valuable for those who have always enjoyed outdoor activities.  Residents who previously had a garden or enjoyed walking in nature gravitate to the outdoor spaces within the memory support household.  “Mom and her friends like to keep an eye out for the bunnies in the courtyard and look forward to a sighting of the furry friends,” commented Cahill.  The outdoor spaces are familiar and offer another space for residents to relax and socialize together.

Related Blog: Q&A with Bryan Berman

Designing for Accessibility and Mobility

Ensuring that all areas of the memory care community are accessible is critical for fostering friendships. “If residents are uncomfortable, they will not use the spaces,” remarked Bradford.  Accessibility features include:

  • Wide Hallways and Doorways allow residents using wheelchairs or walkers to easily navigate the community and participate in social activities.
  • Elevators and Ramps: Essential for multi-story buildings, these features ensure that all residents can access common areas and participate in events regardless of mobility limitations.  At ECH, all areas within the household are accessible with no stairs or other barriers.
  • Comfortable Seating: Chairs and sofas that are easy to get in and out of encourage residents to linger and engage in conversations. The seating arrangements should be thoughtfully designed, making it easy for residents to join friends for a chat.  For example, the sofas in the memory care household seat two instead of three.  It is very difficult to get out of the middle seat; therefore, a three-seat sofa can limit mobility.  When residents can move freely and comfortably throughout the community, they are more likely to participate in social activities and form connections.

Personalization and Individuality

Finally, recognizing and supporting each resident's individuality can foster deeper connections and friendships.

Episcopal Church Home encourages residents to personalize their rooms.   Personalizing living spaces can make each resident feel more at home and comfortable inviting others into their space.  “Some residents and their families use the nooks outside the rooms to personalize the space,” shared Berman.  “Adding photos of themselves and their family serves as a cue that this is their room.  It also lets other residents get to know more about them, and they can talk about their lives.”

The staff at ECH spends time getting to know the residents' backgrounds, interests, and preferences, which can help them facilitate connections between individuals with similar interests.  “This information allows the team to be person-centered with the residents and help make connections,” shared Jackie Amend, whose mom lives at ECH in a memory care neighborhood.  Recognizing birthdays, anniversaries, and personal achievements in a home-like setting can bring residents together to celebrate each other's lives. "The community makes a big deal of celebrating milestones, such as birthdays. It brings everyone together and makes the residents feel special," says Amend.

The design of a memory care assisted living community goes beyond aesthetics and functionality; it plays a crucial role in fostering friendships and creating a vibrant social environment. From thoughtfully designed common areas and accessible facilities to engaging programming and a supportive community culture, every element contributes to the community's social fabric. By prioritizing these aspects, memory care communities can help residents build meaningful relationships, enhancing their overall quality of life and sense of belonging.  “Families are often surprised that their loved ones make friends so quickly,” said Bradford.  “We believe that the care provided by our great staff and the environment specifically designed for memory support really helps.”

Would you like to see if ECH’s memory care can help your loved one make new friends? We would love to give you a tour of renovated Memory Care households. For more information about the continuum of care at Episcopal Church Home, contact Elizabeth Pace, Director of Community Relations, at (502) 736-8043 or email


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Laura Lamb

Laura Lamb

Laura joined Episcopal Retirement Services in 1994. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Biology from the University of Cincinnati and received her Master’s degree in Health Administration from Xavier University. Her thesis on Organizational Design in He... Read More >

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