Designing for Dementia

When plans were hatched for Calgary’s new Bethany Riverview care centre, the team knew they weren’t just designing a building — they were designing a home

Photos by Jennifer Friesen.

Photos by Jennifer Friesen.

Massive windows cascade light through each of Bethany Riverview’s seven unique “neighbourhoods” inside, where residents are free to roam at their will, just like they would at home. Designed for people with complex dementia, the care centre utilizes colour, light, shapes and textures to help residents navigate the space easily and safely. Both residents and care providers are monitored by the Momentum resident safety system, a safety initiative that allows occupants to move freely but be located when needed.

Bethany Riverview care centre is a part of the Riverview Village, Bethany’s first “Campus of Care” for seniors that includes multiple housing buildings, including some for independent seniors.

Jennifer McCue, president and CEO of the Bethany Care Society, says Bethany Riverview’s design is about providing residents a sense of independence and encouraging a sense of place through intentionally designed cues.

Private, 400-square-foot bedrooms include ensuites with blue toilet seats, which help residents recognize the toilet more easily and note if it is open or closed.

Private, 400-square-foot bedrooms include ensuites with blue toilet seats, which help residents recognize the toilet more easily and note if it is open or closed.

Every bedroom door is designed differently — colours and panels differ and door handles are unique. This helps residents identify which door is theirs.

Every bedroom door is designed differently — colours and panels differ and door handles are unique. This helps residents identify which door is theirs.

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“Our whole concept here is to have multiple cues,” she says. “If you don’t recognize the light, then maybe you recognize the colour. If you don’t recognize those, maybe you recognize the feel. It’s about trying multiple ways to have the resident be as comfortable as they can in the space.”

The Rotary Atrium offers 3,000 square feet of space for safe and purposeful wandering. Large windows and plants bring the outdoors in.

The Rotary Atrium offers 3,000 square feet of space for safe and purposeful wandering. Large windows and plants bring the outdoors in.

Since opening last September, the 210-bed long-term care centre has focused on fostering community. Staff members dress in street clothes as opposed to scrubs, meal preparation is done in the dining rooms to bring in the sights and smells of home cooking, and its 3,000-square-foot second-floor atrium offers a light-filled space where everyone can mingle freely with each other and with family. 

“As more residents are moving in, we’re very aware that this moves from being a building to being their home,” said Gail Urquhart, acting executive director of Bethany Care Foundation. “You feel it.” [ ]