Photo courtesy of studioSIX5

Memory Care Goes Digital with Design Innovation

Though well-intentioned and previously effective, some proven senior living staples just deserve reboots. One such staple might be the shadow boxes in memory care, which have been given an innovative upgrade by a prominent interior design firm.

By taking shadow boxes into the digital age, they are able to fulfill more functions and add greater value to residents, their families, and senior living operators, according to studioSIX5, a senior living interior design firm based in Austin, Texas. The firm worked for years on the project before launching it this fall.

The idea took off after employees of the firm noticed a distressing pattern in some of their clients’ memory care communities, Dean Maddalena, president of studioSIX5, told Senior Housing News.

“We do a lot of senior living—that’s all our firm does,” Maddalena explained. “When we would go into existing memory care communities, sometimes the census would be full, but only half of the shadow boxes would be filled.”

Traditionally, shadow boxes in memory care communities are found in the hallways outside of residents’ rooms. The boxes are filled with mementos, photos or other items to remind the residents of their younger days and let the residents know visually which room is theirs.

There are many possible explanations for this, Maddalena said. Sometimes family members aren’t actively involved in residents’ care, and other times residents have no family at all. But Maddalena felt strongly that memory care residents shouldn’t have empty shadow boxes simply because their family members choose not to provide mementos or photos.

“It saddened me,” he said. “It bothered me.”

The firm was encouraged by the number of physical memory boxes in clients’ communities that were always filled, seasonally appropriate and reflective of residents’ distinct personalities. That got studioSIX5 employees thinking.

“We wondered, how can we give that same level of attention to all of the residents?” Maddalena said. “We knew digital would be a great way to do it.”

Vivid personalization

After years of trial and error and consulting with IT experts, studioSIX5 debuted its final product at Tribute at Heritage Village, an assisted living and memory care community in Gainesville, Virginia that’s owned and operated by Thrive Senior Living.

The digital memory box—the first of its kind, according to studioSIX5—features a touch-screen panel, as well as a frame around the panel that includes space for residents’ room numbers. It is customizable to fit any senior living community’s aesthetic.

“It’s wireless, connected to the cloud and controlled by the caregiver, who can upload one image to the box or create a collage of multiple photos to upload,” Maddalena said.

Photo courtesy of studioSIX5

Photo courtesy of studioSIX5

Designers at studioSIX5 also designed the memory boxes to turn on as residents approach their units.
“It’s a very slow fade in, fade out, so it’s not jarring to the residents,” Maddalena said.
Residents have digital memory shadow boxes inside their rooms, too, which display the same images as their shadow boxes in the hallway.
“The repeating of the imagery helps residents to verify that they’re in the right place,” Maddalena said.
Sometimes, families will send old photos to caregivers to display in the digital memory boxes, Maddalena said. But caregivers who aren’t receiving much guidance from residents’ families can still experiment with different images—which can lead to telling results.

“If they find a certain image that’s attractive to the resident, they can dive into it a little further as an interest to the resident,” Maddalena explained.

When it comes to memory boxes, there are many advantages to going digital, Maddalena said—including the fact that digital memory boxes just look better than physical ones.

“The colors and the saturation are so much more vivid as you’re walking down the hallway,” he explained.

Caregivers can also use the shadow boxes in front of empty rooms to display temporary artwork, he said, instead of drawing attention to the fact that the room is unoccupied.

To memory care and beyond

The digital shadow boxes have plenty of applications beyond simply identifying memory care residents’ individual rooms, Maddalena explained. For one, memory care staff can use the boxes to display icons that indicate different resident-specific behaviors, allergies or preferences that caregivers and medical personnel should be aware of. And the boxes surely aren’t just for memory care, either.

“We can also use the same technology in skilled nursing or independent living,” Maddalena said.

Photo courtesy of studioSIX5

Photo courtesy of studioSIX5

studioSIX5 has also designed a “collage” of five digital memory boxes that can be displayed in senior living common areas. Each box can showcase different information, such as the local news, the weather, the day’s dining menus or the community’s activity calendar.

This is just the beginning for studioSIX5’s digital memory boxes: the firm says it plans to install its second round of digital memory boxes in early 2017, and three additional clients that currently have communities under construction also intend to install the boxes.

Written by Mary Kate Nelson