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Riverwalk Memory Care: Putting the Needs Of Those Living With Dementia First


Riverwalk Memory Care: Putting the Needs of Those Living with Dementia First

Since many forms of dementia are progressive, it is expected that a family on the dementia journey will eventually need to make accommodations to the living environment of the person they are caring for in order to support their needs, ensure their safety and overall well-being.

These common changes may include offering a safe place so that the person they are caring for can pace freely and safely indoors and outdoors in their living environment. As well, by incorporating supportive visible cues in the environment, it can help to reduce confusion and enhance a person’s independence for as long as possible while preventing or reducing restlessness or anxieties


When do we consider moving an individual living with symptoms of dementia to a more supportive living environment?

When the environment or circumstances at home are no longer ideal or safe for the individual living with symptoms of dementia or their families/care partners, then it may be time to seek an alternative living arrangement such as a specialized memory care environment.


What are “Memory Care Environments?”

Studies have shown that the built-environment can have a significant effect on the life of a person with a dementia diagnosis.  It can either support positive independence and self-worth, or, it can create unwanted dependency. Therefore, when searching for the most supportive dementia care environment for a loved one, there are some key factors one should consider.

Memory care environments are initially designed using the lens of what life can be like for people living with symptoms of dementia. For instance, memory care environments look at common patterns and experiences of people living with dementia. The goal is to create the ideal, safe, home-like environment that promotes independence and autonomy.

We know that every person living with symptoms of dementia will have their own unique personalities, abilities as well as disabilities.  Thus, it’s not always easy to create a living space that is a “one-size-fits-all” situation.

When taking a look at the physical living environment, here are some things to consider for the home to be dementia-friendly:

  • It should feel more home-like than hospital-like.
  • It should not be too overcrowded; that is, there should no more than 15 residents.
  • There should be no long hallways with dead ends.
  • There should be “way-finding cues” to minimize confusion and foster independence (e.g., wall features; paint accents; pictures; posters; objects, textures, sounds and smells.)
  • The environment should create links to be social with other people to grow and maintain meaningful relationships.
  • It should offer social spaces and rooms for a variety of interests in order to provide stimulation and curiosity, while helping to reduce boredom, anxiety, frustration and of course unnecessary stress.
  • There should be activity options available for active and passive involvement in activities of interest.
  • There should be easy access to safe outdoor experiences.
  • Obstacles, barriers, poor lighting, glare and hazards should be eliminated to reduce any frustrations.

Person-centred aspects that contribute to a dementia-friendly environment:

  • Familiar items belonging to the person with dementia should be placed in the room to promote comfortable feelings and links with their identity and their past.
  • Flexible schedules that promote continuation of personal lifestyles and minimizing regimentation.
  • Self-directed care and decision making should be encouraged at all times.
  • A support team that allows and adapts for changes in people’s abilities, needs and responses.
  • Discrete safety features to support freedom and reduce risks to a level acceptable to the team, families, as well as other residents should be put in place.
  • Discrete focus on medical or personal care tasks to reduce the creation of a dependent or medical model of care.
  • Daily encouragement to be active in order to keep skills and abilities for as long as possible should be practiced by all staff members.

As the prevalence of dementia grows, so will the need for new memory care homes that incorporate the best practices in dementia care.

The exciting news is that in 2023 a new supportive living environment will open called, Riverwalk Retirement Residence in Calgary, Alberta. This new residence will have a specialized memory care floor that will be incorporating the above dementia-friendly environmental designs, including smaller household environments with no long hospital-like corridors. The environment will also include a large outdoor accessible safe space for independent and group activities; or simply, a place where residents can enjoy freedom of movement, fresh air and even take strolls for daily exercise.


Maintaining a home-like environment for residents and staff

Another unique feature they will be offering is having meals initially prepared in the main kitchen, with the final preparations to be completed in each household’s kitchen. This allows both efficiency in meal preparation and reduce staff workload so they can focus on building relationships with the residents, while making the final meal preparations in the household providing a “home-like” experience.

The smell and sounds of food preparation can be an additional comforting sensory enticement for the people who live there and possibly, improve their appetites to encourage them to eat. Lastly, it can likewise be a form of a relaxing and bonding group activity for both residents and staff.

A home-like environment adds familiarity and a feeling of comfort in everyday life for anyone.  However, it also requires the right people who have compassion, skills and knowledge in the realm of dementia care to enrich a memory care environment with the feeling of “Home is where the heart is”.  Therefore, industry training will be provided to all staff who work in the memory care floor, including creative ways to help support potential dementia-related behaviours that may arise on the dementia journey.

Riverwalk Retirement Residence is looking forward to offering this specialized dementia-friendly memory care living experience that will bring their residents a feeling of warmth and safety. Careful design of the physical and the social environments along with incorporating the ideal dementia care philosophies will greatly impact the overall well-being and quality of life of the people they will serve, including providing the much-needed peace of mind for the families who love them.


Karen Tyrell CPCA, CDCP is a Dementia Consultant, Educator, Author & Advocate, and Founder of Personalized Dementia Solutions Inc. ( Karen offers her expertise on dementia care through speaking engagements, workshops, support groups and by working one-on-one with families and caregivers to provide emotional support and practical solutions.  She was also on the design team for The Village Langley and provides ongoing education to The Village team, families and the community.


The contents of this blog are provided for information purposes only. They are not intended to replace clinical diagnosis or medical advice from a health professional. For any health-related issue, always seek medical advice first from a trained medical professional.