July 19, 2016

Choosing Furniture and Fixtures in Memory Care

This is part four of a blog series around designing for memory care residents. Parts one through three covered thermal comfort, lighting, and interior design.

As we continue our series on designing spaces for memory care patients, we’ve come to the subject of furniture and fixtures. This is an often overlooked topic but one of incredible importance as choosing the right furniture, and laying it out affectively, can assist both memory care residents and caregivers in day-to-day activities.

When we start thinking about furniture for memory care facilities a few things come to mind:

  1. The furniture should wear well and wash easily.
  2. It should be simple to understand. From patterns in the furniture, to the art on the wall, everything should be easy to comprehend.
  3. It should easily work for residents and staff alike—helping them instead of hindering their daily activities.
  4. Furniture and fixtures should be ergonomically designed in a way that makes them easily used by residents.

But above all, the choices that we make as designers for memory care facilities, whether they be around furniture or other building aspects, should all work to help residents maintain their independence for as long as possible. We need to understand that emotional issues, not just the typical physical issues of aging, come into play when designing for memory care.

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Durable and Washable

It’s not the most fun fact, but durability and washability are paramount if you want your furniture to last for any length of time in a memory care facility. However, there’s a double edged sword here. To ease the stress on patients, it is recommended that memory care facilities feel as home-like as possible with furnishings that remind people of home. Finding durable, washable, yet realistically home-like furniture can be difficult.

One of our favorite fabrics for senior living facilities is Crypton. It’s stain resistant, water resistant, and microbe resistant yet still has the look and feel of more traditional fabrics. The science behind the fabric is pretty cool. Read it here.

Easily Understood

As dementia and Alzheimer’s progresses, the possibility of misunderstanding items we take for granted grows. Some of these we come to expect, like not recognizing loved ones, or forgetting details of one’s own life. However, another common result of dementia is misinterpreting your surroundings. This comes into play when choosing fabric patterns and wall art. If a pattern includes things like flowers or bugs, it may cause a resident to pick at the item in an attempt to touch or hold the thing they see. When they’re unable to do so, it can cause confusion.

When choosing furniture for memory care facilities, special attention must be paid to the fabric, cushion, and design of the piece. Choosing the correct furniture can help make daily life easier for both residents and staff.

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Work for Residents and Staff

There are many ways that furniture can help in the day-to-day life of residents and staff. Choosing moisture-blocking fabrics on furniture is one of the best ways to ensure easy clean-up and to help your furniture investment last longer. However, you want to be careful here. Investing in furniture that is washable, yet non-clinical in look and feel, can help residents, staff and family members feel more comfortable and “at-home” in the facility. Something as simple as an adjustable table can allow for a comfortable front approach and flexibility desired by staff. This will also prolong the life of the table as the adjustability allows for a resident in a wheelchair or dining chair to comfortably pull up to the table and minimize impact. Casters on chairs are good as long as they are locking motion casters. This ensures a resident can use the aid of a caster when in a seated position; however, will avoid the chance of falling when standing up and/or leaning on the chair while in a standing position.

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Ergonomically Correct

Ergonomics is the science of designing and arranging things so that people can use them easily and safely. This should be applied when thinking about furniture choices for memory care homes. Some of the tips we’re learned along the way include:

  • Avoid sofas as they are hard for a resident to get in and out of.  Focus your attention on loveseats and lounge chairs.
  • Having an arm to grasp helps to provide leverage when trying to sit down or get back up.
  • Seats and backs that slope back can make it difficult for a resident to get out of.
  • Seat arms should be wide enough to grasp and comfortable when resting one's arm.
  • Ensure that the cushion is not too soft or too firm so that resident can sit comfortably and easily get in and out of the chair.

At the end of the day, we know that furniture and fixtures can only do so much to help dementia residents and their caretakers. However, choosing items that aid and to not hinder the daily activities of your facility can go a long way in making daily life easier for both residents and staff.

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