The Memory Care Experience Station is a large-scale, mobile unit that offers interactive, multisensory engagement for residents living with dementia.

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In 2018, SmithGroup, a world-renowned architectural, engineering, and planning firm with a specialty in innovative healthcare, partnered with San Francisco Campus of Jewish Living (SFCJL) to host a competition to design what we call the Memory Care Experience Station.

CHALLENGE: Design experience stations that enable residents with dementia to engage in daily sensory therapy, play, and social interaction.

Competition participants received the following directive: experience stations would be a mix of technology, physical components, and environment utilizing a combination of product, set, and environmental design strategies. They were further advised that stations will be themed to allow for a variety of experiences and for resident choice and flexible enough to allow for change as residents’ desires and needs evolve. Competitors included two design firms and UC Berkeley students in the Fung Fellowship, a multi-disciplinary program in the School of Public Health that is focused on developing entrepreneurs in health and wellness.

It’s really a very well-thought-out experience.



Memory Care

In tandem with the design competition, SFCJL applied for and was honored to receive a SPARK grant from The Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation (CABHI)a Canadian-based collaboration of health care, science, industry, not-for-profit and government partners whose aim is to help improve quality of life for the world’s aging population, allowing older adults to age safely while maintaining their cognitive, emotional, and physical well-being. SPARK program grants provide funding to support innovative grassroots ideas that can help to improve brain health or quality of life for older adults.

With this early funding, SFCJL teamed up with Maria Mortati, an interactive experience designer with a 20+ year history producing participatory museum and exhibits, to build the first prototype for the Memory Care Experience Station (or the Station). Through the application of the three phases of human-centered interaction design (inspiration, ideation, and implementation), Maria and SFCJL’s dementia care team have created a multi-sensory, interactive experience for people living with dementia. 

Center for Aging + Brain Health Innovation

SFCJL has a proven track record of innovating to meet the ever-expanding needs of older adults and the Experience Station is a new component of our philosophy of transformational care and delivery. With the growing number of residents with dementia and demands on staff time and resources, technological innovations have become complementary tools to provide ongoing sources of stimulation when traditional group activities may not be sufficient. For example, creative art therapies have long been standard practice on campus, but as time and modalities have changed, SFCJL is increasing the extent to which technology is used to enhance psycho-socialization in a replicable manner that does not necessarily require hands-on facilitation.

Comprised of a combination of technology, physical components, and environments, the Station is designed to represent a wide variety of familiar and preferred experiences and themes driven by the resident choice and personal history. Components of the Station include (but are not limited to): physical elements to touch, put on, and/or interact with; props, monitors (both touchscreen and/or standard); virtual or augmented reality; projection; audio and/or video. The Station will use these features to engage people living with dementia with meaningful activities that distract from fears and enable them to engage in a dynamic experience through the use of imagination and creativity.

Coinciding with ideation, the implementation phase of the project began through observational research with residents and conversations with their caregivers. From there, a research database was created at the intersection of human-centered design, best practices in care, and technology. Next, a proof-of-concept, full-scale prototype to test with residents was produced; testing included videotaping residents interacting and engaging with the prototype and post-experience interviews. Base elements were refined and a second, more robust Station prototype and three additional fully-developed “themes” were produced and sessions were employed with multiple resident users and caregiving staff.

Most recently, SFCJL was thrilled to receive a 2021 Innovation Award honorable mention from The SCAN Foundation, an independent public charity devoted to transforming care for older adults in ways that preserve dignity and encourage independence. This highly-coveted award recognizes organizations that have embraced the principles of human-centered design to build and/or modify a product, program, or service to improve the lives of older adults. 

In May 2022, SFCJL's memory care experience station was honored by LeadingAge California as a Finalist in the Innovation Showcase at their Annual Conference. This Award recognizes ideas that include evidenced-informed technologies, new approaches to caregiving, life enrichment approaches, enhanced safety and security, and improving quality of life for older adults.

I love it. I’d like to show my wife as well if that’s alright, she would like to see this too. I might bring over a friend or two if that’s Ok. Made my day, thank you very much. This is just so comfortable to watch. I might stay all night! Very, very cool.

-Gary (resident living with mid-stage dementia)

Wow, whoa, I can feel it. That was good! I like that... That was really nice. I like the feeling of being in a launch. The launch itself was quite spectacular. It was a good experience.

-Steve (resident living with mid-stage dementia enjoying a shuttle launch experience)

Fung Fellow demonstrates a concept prototype with competition director Alexis Denton, formerly of SmithGroup.

A Resident enjoys the rumble and breezes of a Space Shuttle launch with a Dementia Care Team member.

A Memory Care resident enjoying the first prototype of the Experience Station with a Dementia Care Team member.

2nd Experience Station prototype, 2021


Caregiving staff members that have tested the station have expressed a clear sense of the Memory Care Experience Station’s value to their residents living with dementia as well as their work.

The Station will help solve one of the biggest problems for people living with dementia: a lack of engagement and stimulation that leads to isolation, boredom, and other behavioral challenges. Functioning as a form of sensory therapy, the Station will simultaneously stimulate multiple senses through a combination of visual imagery, calming sounds, smells, and/or tactile stimulation. Extensive research has shown the benefits of this type of therapy include its positive effects on decreasing agitation, anxiety, apathy, and depression; all behaviors most often associated with dementia.

Aligning with SFCJL’s time-honored mission of enriching the quality of life of older adults, the ultimate goal of the Station is to work within each residents’ current abilities, provide stimulating creative activities during residents’ daily lives, and reduce the negative symptoms and challenging behaviors commonly associated with dementia by engaging residents in an immersive, multi-sensory experience that elicits imagination and familiar, enjoyable and meaningful activities and social interactions that can be shared with their caregivers, family, and visitors.

Fast Company

SFCJL is delighted to announce that the Memory Care Experience Station made the list of Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas Awards as a Finalist in the Experimental category. World Changing Ideas is one of Fast Company’s major annual awards programs and is focused on social good, seeking to elevate finished products and brave concepts that make the world better. A panel of judges from across sectors choose winners, finalists, and honorable mentions based on feasibility and the potential for impact. With the goals of awarding ingenuity and fostering innovation, Fast Company draws attention to ideas with great potential and helps them expand their reach to inspire more people to start working on solving the problems that affect us all.

Thanks to Pam & Larry Baer and Lynne Frank Page & Ron Page for their generous early-phase support!

Experience Station video
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