According to caregivers at Memory Care of Westover Hills, there is a night-and-day difference between the new facility and memory-care units of the past.
Linda Carrasco, executive director at the San Antonio-based facility, said that years ago, residents at assisted-living facilities diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and dementia feared being sent to the memory-care unit. It had dingy, dark hallways filled with wanderers. It was “like being put into a different part of the building,” she said.
But that changed dramatically last October when Westover Hills opened its first facility, a 64-bed, 46,000-square-foot unit dedicated solely to residents with Alzheimer's and dementia. The facility is part of Memory Care America, an affiliate of Midland, Texas-based Trident Healthcare Properties and Georgetown, Texas-based Embree Healthcare Group.
The new Westover Hills facility deploys cutting-edge technology to assist residents. Sensor-driven lighted handrails lead residents from bed to bathroom, and back again. The lighted rails are meant to reduce late-night falls when residents use the bathroom. And in each residential apartment, sensor-driven lights by the window get brighter as the sun goes down, which prevents residents from sitting in the dark.
The rooms themselves are bright and cheery. The facility has separate activity rooms and dining areas where staffers at Westover Hills can focus solely on residents with memory-care needs. “If you're 100% memory-dedicated, families are confident your staff has been trained well,” Carrasco said.
Westover Hills was designed by Gould Turner Group, an architecture company that ranked 33rd in Modern Healthcare's 2016 survey of healthcare-engaged architectural firms. In fiscal 2015, Gould Turner reported just over $205 million in revenue from healthcare-related projects.
Residences designed specifically for memory care have received tremendous support from families, said Linda Marzialo, CEO at Gould Turner, because the special needs of that population are being met in a facility that is more like living at home than in an institution.
The design is central to the changed orientation. Facilities now include hallways that are easily navigated and easy access to outdoor spaces and common areas that promote social interaction.
Construction and design firms report an uptick in demand for dedicated, stand-alone memory-care facilities. The demand is expected to grow as the baby boom generation ages.
For the fourth quarter of 2015, the memory-care industry added 2,027 units, a 2.1% uptick in total units. And for fiscal 2015, the memory-care sector added 7,174 units, a 7.4% rise, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care, or NIC, a not-for-profit organization based in Annapolis, Md., that tracks the availability of senior housing and care. Currently, there are about 12,200 units under construction, according to the NIC.