• Nancy Griffin

Andrew Carle Talks About Shenandoah Memory Care™ at The Virginian

Updated: Jun 5

Color-themed neighborhoods include inclusive sensory lounge, reminiscence lounge and multi-themed outdoor courtyard.


The newly-opened Shenandoah Memory Care™ at The Virginian in Fairfax, VA, uses advances in design, technology and person-centered care for people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias. Consultant and advisory Andrew Carle, adjunct faculty at Georgetown University's Masters in Aging and Health, tells Nancy Griffin about his flagship memory care project.


NG: How is the Shenandoah at The Virginian memory care community different? What makes it so special?


AC: For 25 years. I've had a passion for memory care. Memory care facilities are often designed by people who come from the hospitality side and don’t understand the therapeutic milieu of memory care. Over the years I’ve designed memory care, but what was different at The Virginian is the owners, Focus HealthCare Partners out of Chicago, who gave me carte blanche and their full support.


NG: What are some of the specific aspects of Shenandoah that are game changers from a typical memory care community?


AC: The biggest thing we did is replace traditional life skills stations with engagement areas. For the past 20 years, we have been building these little faux writing desks or a little faux workbench or a little faux nursery, but there's always been issues with them. First of all, they come to be used by one resident at a time and they have to be self-initiated. Second thing is they end up unused. Let's be honest. A lot of times life skill stations are more props for the tour and you rarely see residents actually using them.

The community includes 40 apartments in four color-themed neighborhoods. There are two wings that meet in the middle with three large engagement rooms.


The issue we have had with sensory lounges over the years, is, frankly, they're claustrophobic and a little strange, with lava lamps and things like that. What we've done is create a lounge that not only one resident but groups of residents can use to relax or calm down or be more active across all their senses. We created a lounge that engages all the senses with aromatherapy, nature sounds and a fish tank. It also has a gaming table called OBIE –-a hand-motion gaming technology with 60 games designed for seniors. We also added circadian light therapy to improve mood and sleep patterns, that can be changed from blue to green to pink to orange.



When you walk into the reminiscence lounge, everything is a genuine throwback to the 1950s and 60s. We even have high school yearbooks on the shelf from local Northern Virginia, plus photos of past local retailers, drive-ins and an ice cream parlor. There is a poodle-skirted dress mannequin named Peggy Sue and a refrigerator with throwback soft drinks and snacks. Everything taps into the reminiscence bump — which is evidence-based — and takes the residents back to a time period with the strongest memories. They can walk in and start talking about yearbooks, photos, photographs and records. Everything is real.


The multi-themed outdoor courtyard includes both a 1960s replica backyard and a park. To address exit-seeking behavior, residents can travel freely between the two, engaging in activities from hanging laundry to enjoying an ice cream or sitting on a bench and reading a newspaper from The Washington Post newspaper box. There’s literally a white, picket fence with a gate.


NG: The attention to detail is striking.


AC: I was laser focused on the idea that everything at Shenandoah had to be genuine. Even have the mannequin dressed in a poodle skirt with saddle shoes has a real 60-year-old poodle skirt in mint condition. We didn't buy a Halloween costume. A recent study on memory care reveals that not only throwbacks are helpful, but local items generate the most powerful response.


NG: Tell us about how you leveraged technology at Shenandoah.


AC: We sourced state of the art technologies that were not available 20 years ago, like the circadian lighting system sourced from a luxury Manhattan hotel. We are the first memory care in the United States to have it. We also incorporate MyndVR virtual reality, SingFit therapeutic music app and LifeBio evidence-based reminiscence therapy technologies. Every one of these technologies is taking our industry to the next level.

We’re also gathering all kinds of data with our technology. I mentioned the hand-motion game OBIE, which has been a great source of data and empirical evidence. We know how long residents play the game, which games they engage in the most, and we can see if there are changes in the resident playing time.


NG: Any final words for our readers?


AC: Memory Care is going to be bigger. We haven't found a cure for Alzheimer's or any of the other dementias, so we must get next generation memory care going. We don't have enough workers, and that includes executives. So it is imperative that we have more academic curricula. There should be dozens of universities offering senior living administration curricula, not two or three. We obviously need more technology for older adults—whether they're living at home or in our communities. And then we need to build places where people want to live. We've got to move away from these generic cookie cutter elderly islands.

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