A Living Model – Experiential Continual Improvement

A study on Abe’s Garden, award winning Alzheimer’s and Memory Care Community of Excellence.

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What if every project that a designer completed was actually a living model that evaluated and benchmarked information for continual improvement?  Could the physical environment be used to continually test and strategize on improvement of patients’ and residents’ quality of life?  A living “laboratory” that supports current thinking, while gathering data for improving design and the future of healthcare – that’s innovative. 

This was the premise for Abe’s Garden, a recently opened and award winning Alzheimer’s and Memory Care Community of Excellence located in Nashville, Tennessee. The programming and design of the environment has been established to create a new standard for future programs and community – looking to be a living model for real time evidence to support design and operational decisions that can improve care for residents with memory care needs.  

Manuel Zeitlin Architects, part of the family that came together to create Abe’s Garden, led the design team through an evidence based design process to understand the application of the most current research on impacts of lighting, appropriate furnishings for residents with dementia, and technological opportunities that assist care givers to support residents to age in place within the community. LEED® accredited professionals were utilized with the goal of pursuing LEED® Certification.  Sustainable attributes included geothermal heating, natural light and daylighting, regional and recycled materials, ENERGY STAR appliances, permeable pavement, recycling and managing construction waste, use of low / no VOC products, energy reducing strategies, site lighting that met International Dark Sky Association standards, and sound land use practices (as part of a larger non-profit senior lifestyle community).  Furnishing for resident rooms were completed by Furnished Living™ – using an evidence based design approach to furniture for assisted living. The furniture provides thoughtful solutions for residents with dementia, including cueing to support as much independence and choice as possible. 

The on-going research completed at Abe’s Garden is in full collaboration with the Vanderbilt Center for Quality Aging. In addition, the Vanderbilt Memory and Alzheimer’s Center is dedicated to conducting innovative research on memory loss and cognitive aging, the latest research findings available for clinical colleagues to support provision of high quality outpatient services to older adults with memory concerns, and train and educate the next generation of investigators and clinicians to continue advances and enhancements of clinical care and management of older adults with memory loss.      

The integrated design team lead by Manuel Zeitlin included interior designer, Joe Hassel from Perkins Eastman, Hawkins Partners, Inc. for landscape architecture, Genesis Engineering Group for MEP Engineering, EMC for Structural Engineering, and Barge Cauthen for Civil Engineering. The project was photographed by Nick McGinn at McGinn Photography. 

Abe’s Garden is a living model that supports opportunities for continual evaluation and improvements. Not only the physical environment and furnishings, but the benchmarking of operations and the care model for continual improvement will benefit Abe’s Garden, while also positively impacting the future of all resident care, particularly for those with dementia.  If all healthcare designers approached their projects as an opportunity to move the tipping point toward person-centered care for all – measuring the outcomes for continual improvement – just think of the evidence that could support drastic, needed change in the long term care marketplace! The future is definitely full of opportunity!

Jane Rohde is the founding Principal of JSR Associates, Inc. located in Ellicott City, Maryland. She champions a global cultural shift toward de-institutionalizing senior living and healthcare facilities through person-centered principles, research and advocacy, and design of the built environment. Clientele includes non-profit and for-profit developers, government agencies, senior living and health care providers, and design firms. Jane speaks internationally on senior living, aging, healthcare, evidence-based design and sustainability. She is the first recipient of the Environments for Aging Changemaker Award presented by The Center for Health Design. For more information or comments, please contact Jane Rohde at jane@jsrassociates.net.

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