US nursing home turns dementia care on its head

This average American street is not what it seems – rather it’s a nursing home in Ohio that has been created to provide specialist care for residents with dementia.

The intriguing design is the brainchild of Lantern Assisted Living CEO and founder Jean Makesh, who came up with the idea while working as an occupational therapist for a major nursing home chain.

When some of his patients began to exhibit signs of dementia, he was unsure what to do.

When some of his patients began showing signs of dementia, he didn’t know what to do. “I thought I knew a lot about being elderly in general, but when I started engaging with these residents on a one-on-one basis, I realised ‘oh my God, I have no clue,’” he said in an interview with Upworthy.

These residents includes a man who regularly asked for breakfast at 7:30pm and a 92-year-old woman who frequently told people she had to go home to see her mother.

Aware that they needed to be moved out of assisted living, he knew they would either have to build a memory-care unit or move the residents to another facility.

A big believer in the power of environment to shape people’s thoughts and ideas, Mr Makesh began looking into a range of therapies, including music and aromatherapy.

Finding a solution

His answers was outside the box: “What if we design an environment that looks like outside? What if I can have a sunrise and sunset inside the building? What if I’m able to have the moon and stars come out? What if I build a unit that takes residents back to the ‘30s and ‘40s?” he states.

Rather than rooms, each resident lives in a little “home”, complete with rocking chair on the porch, along an indoor “neighbourhood” designed to remind them of the houses they grew up in.

Mr Makesh says these nostalgic designs are important for people with dementia, helping to bring back memories and ensuring they feel comfortable in their new surroundings.

“I want to take them back to their earlier childhood days,” he adds. “I really wanted to show people that environment does matter – it plays a huge role [in the patient's care].”

Instead of a plain ceiling, the roof has been covered with a digital sky that mimics the sky outside during the day to keep residents’ biological clocks in tune.

Floors are covered in green to replicate the look of grass, while music and nature sounds such as bird calls are played during the day.

At meal times, scents such as peppermint and citrus are also piped in to fuel residents’ appetites.

Some studies have shown these therapies can help cognitive function in people with dementia and have a calming effect on the agitation and anxiety it can cause.

A new way of thinking

As well as providing nursing care, the home also offers an array of activities such as family nights, cooking club, massages, and weekly shopping trips.

The residents are also encouraged to keep their minds busy, whether it’s learning to write their names again or dress themselves.

Recently opened in July, this is Lantern’s third home in Ohio and Mr Makesh is already making plans to bring the idea to other states.

He has an even more ambitious plan though: “In five years, we’re going to [be able to] rehabilitate our clients where they can live independently in our environment,” he said. “In 10 years, we’re going to be able to send them back home.”

Whether this vision becomes a reality, only time will tell, but it is one that is certainly giving its residents – and their families – hope for the future.

See a video tour of the home here.

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A special thanks to our contributors

Jill Donaldson


Jill has been practicing as a clinical physiotherapist for 30 years. For the last 13 years she has worked solely in the Aged Care sector in more than 50 metropolitan and regional facilities. Jill has also toured care facilities in the US and Africa and is a passionate advocate for both the residents in aged care and the staff who care for them. She researches and writes for DCM Media.

Chris Baynes

DCM Media, agedcare101

Chris has been a journalist and publisher in the retirement village and aged care sectors for 11 years. He has visited over 250 retirement villages and 50 aged care facilities both within Australia and internationally. Chris is a regular speaker at industry conferences plus is a frequent radio commentator.

Annie Donaldson

Nurse and Carer

Annie has a long career in both nursing and the media. She has planned and co-ordinated the medical support from both international TV productions and major stadium events. In recent years she has been a primary family carer plus involved in structured carer support.