Focus on the mind

Open for just over a year, Katella’s memory support unit is more than just a wing or floor dedicated to residents with dementia — it is a full-scale facility within a complex in Los Alamitos, CA.

The 19-residence Pearl Garden Memory Care Community is within the Alamitos West Health Care Center, a 150-bed skilled nursing facility on the Katella Senior Living campus, which includes 60 assisted living residences.

The $1.3 million project, designed by the Chaska, MN-based Goodman Group, is part of a full-scale effort to incorporate memory care into the entire living environment and not only serve as a segment of it. 

“Our goal is to bring memory care forward and place it in the existing building in a meaningful way,” says Goodman Group architect Burt Elmer. 

The renovation of the 1978 building included upgraded spaces for dining, lounges, and physical and occupational therapy. The memory care community is especially important because “residents are living longer and the need is greater as they age,” Elmer says.

The layout is “actually fairly simple,” Elmer says. “We opened it up well within the purview of health and safety. Dignified freedom is the essence of it. Residents have a sense of time of day, which gives them structure and helps them focus on their abilities, not their disabilities.”

Memory and shadow boxes near their rooms are key to helping residents remember key times and dates of their past. While the unit is secure, the visual elements are de-emphasized so that residents can freely travel throughout the facility and to the outdoor patio and garden.

The layout design is simple, yet the attention to detail in the décor is readily apparent. Floors are vinyl plank with wood grain of natural coloring, as are chair rails and bases, and trim and crown molding. Walls have patterned coverings, featuring clapboard accents alternating with painted walls. 

Illumination is an important element, with an indirect light cove providing natural sunlight into the lounges and dining rooms, while corridors are lit with shallow bowl florescent fixtures and backlighting gives window artwork a special glow. Recognition of the faux window designs helps residents know where their rooms are located.

Executive Director Michelle Ortiz says Pearl Garden offers comfort and relaxation while providing the safety residents with dementia need. In fact, she says residents who previously showed a great need to wander calmed down almost immediately after entering the community.

“The atmosphere here is very soothing,” she says. “It is where I like to come when I need to get away because it is so tranquil.”