Shenandoah at The Virginian Sets Stage for New Approach to Alzheimer’s and Memory Care

May 19, 2022

FAIRFAX, VA—A new national model for memory care is being unveiled by The Virginian senior living community in Fairfax, Virginia. Just completed as part of an ongoing $56 million renovation—one of the largest investments in senior living in the Washington area—Shenandoah at The Virginian represents new advancements in design, technology and person-centered care for people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias, creating a first-of-its-kind memory care community for seniors with varying stages of memory loss.

Increasing memory problems have been on the rise nationally among the aging baby boomer population. A recent study by the Alzheimer’s Association cites the number of Virginians age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s will increase nearly 27% between 2020 and 2025. Nationally, nearly 35% of people age 85 and older are afflicted with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia. Memory care communities like Shenandoah at The Virginian have been shown to help maximize quality of life, enhance socialization and provide a safe, therapeutic living experience for such people.

“Our goal was to take existing design practices and elevate them to a new level in addition to new approaches and technologies that maximize the ability of memory care residents to access their retained skills, interests and engagement with others,” said Andrew Carle, one of the lead designers of the project and an adjunct faculty member and lead instructor of senior living administration graduate curricula at Georgetown University.

Carle is nationally recognized for his work in senior living, and he coined the term ‘Nana Technology™’ to describe microchip-based technology that is designed, intended and can be used to improve quality of life for older adults.

The living environment at Shenandoah, which has been under development for more than two years, focuses on features that are “safe, directional and therapeutic,” which is defined by Carle as representing the “three-legged stool” of memory care design. Three unique engagement areas include a sensory lounge, reminiscence lounge and multi-themed outdoor courtyard that allow individual residents, groups of residents and even family, friends and staff to participate in the daily living experience.

The sensory lounge features tactile artwork, live fish, aromatherapy, nature sounds and music, color mode lighting and OBIE™, a hand motion multiplayer gaming system designed specifically for individuals with memory loss, and which The Virginian was among the first senior living communities in the nation to offer. The reminiscence lounge taps into a recent study indicating those with memory loss relate most easily with items to which they have a past personal connection. The lounge includes 1950s and 60s yearbooks from local high schools; photos of past local retailers, drive-ins and ice cream parlors; a poodle skirt-dressed mannequin named ‘Peggy Sue’ and even a refrigerator with old-timey soft drinks and snacks. The multi-themed courtyard includes both a 1960s replica backyard and park that residents can travel freely between, engaging in activities like hanging laundry, enjoying an ice cream or sitting on a bench and reading the paper from The Washington Post newspaper box.

In addition to OBIE, the design incorporates numerous ‘Nana Technologies,’ including a state-of-the-art circadian lighting system, MyndVR™ virtual reality, SingFit™ and LifeBio™ technologies. Circadian lighting allows residents to access their natural biorhythms to enjoy “peaceful days and restful nights,” minimizing the ‘sundowning’ effect of late night activities that many may otherwise experience. MyndVR has received national recognition for its application of virtual reality to individuals with Alzheimer’s and related dementias. SingFit, an award-winning therapeutic music technology platform, improves cognitive health and wellness. And LifeBio is the first research-based life story application that uses evidence-based reminiscence therapy (RT) for person-centered care that is based on an individual’s experiences.

According to April Smith, director of memory care at Shenandoah at The Virginian, “Our nationally recognized programming focuses on engagement through personal interaction and understanding the unique person that is every resident. By combining our Heartfelt Connections™ staff training and resident care program with our next generation design, we truly believe we have created a model that can not only enhance quality of life for our residents but establishes a national model for residents in other communities.”

Shenandoah’s wayfinding and therapeutic design allows residents to self-locate and self-direct through themed neighborhoods, recognizable landmarks, curved corners at intersections, signature memory boxes and matching contrasting walls and features within the living and bathing areas of their apartments, providing cueing and guidance throughout the day.

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