Oklahoma State University Research Team Develops Innovative Dementia Care Settings

Story provided by Emily Roberts, PhD, Assistant Professor, OSU Design, Housing, and Merchandising

It is estimated that 5.4 million Americans have some form of dementia and these numbers are expected to rise in the coming decades, leading to an unprecedented demand for memory care housing and services. A research team at Oklahoma State university has been searching for innovative options to create more autonomy and better quality of life in dementia care settings and has found that repurposing existing structures, in particular vacant urban malls, may be one option for the large sites needed for a city center model. One precedent they are looking a is the Dutch Dementia Village which opened in 2009. This site offers medical and psychosocial care in a community setting without the hospital façade. The Dementia Village model allows for continuation of patterns of daily living through housing integrated with large exterior walkways and gardens, restaurants, a grocery store, pub and theater on a secure 4 acre site.

To date, there have been no other developments like the Dementia Village in the U.S., as memory care providers may not have the appropriately sized property to offer multiple activities and medical services for residents, nor the funding to develop them. Providers are also concerned about bottom-line development costs associated with new ground-up construction for a care setting of this size and scope. 

Commercial Mall Closures  

One option for the large sites needed for care settings similar to the Dementia Village are closed commercial mall sites. Consumer spending habits are changing, and forecasts show 10% of U.S. malls will fail by 2022, eventually converting to uses other than retail. The economic fallout from COVID-19 is also affecting those retailers that were already in dire circumstances before the current pandemic hit, conceivably resulting in higher rates of closures. Communities are rethinking malls, and determining whether to rehabilitate the property or tear down the structure and rebuild another place type. Rather than demolition and rebuilding on these sites, adaptive reuse becomes an opportunity to reduce the impact of the built environment on global climate change through repurposed buildings and urban re-greening.

The Dementia Friendly City Center Model   

Adaptive reuse of malls for developments similar to the Dementia Village can result in Dementia Friendly City Centers (DFCC), because malls sites are typically centrally located and the internal infrastructure is in place for lighting and HVAC, with varied spatial configurations of public spaces. The DFCC model is proposed as a new way to encourage wellness over illness with the incorporation of four central design tenants: medical care and infectious disease control with onsite quarantine units; opportunities for social interaction and personal autonomy; therapeutic indoor/outdoor environments; and sustainable building practices to aid in global climate change mitigation. The conceptual design shows removal of large sections of roof to create interior courtyards and includes a medical/wellness center, quarantine unit, classrooms, restaurant and cafe, community garden, and re-greening of 40% of the asphalt parking lot. Three types of residential memory care are introduced in adjacent housing with secure access to the DFCC.  The conceptual phase of the project has been vital in supporting the communication of new ideas and for the initiation of future community dialogues. For further information about this project contact Dr. Emily Roberts at 405-744-3818 or [email protected].