Faux 1950s town being built will be the first of its kind in the US to help dementia patients remember their youth

By Ann Schmidt

The town will be run by the George G. Glenner Alzheimer's Family Center like a day care center for adults. Photo / 123rf
The town will be run by the George G. Glenner Alzheimer's Family Center like a day care center for adults. Photo / 123rf

The Thunderbird's in the shop waiting to be tinkered with, there's a fully-staffed town hall and the movie theater is showing Singin' in the Rain.

Welcome to Glenner Town Square - a downtown of shops, restaurants and even a nursery, all built around a green - but all is not as it seems here. This 25-building town evocative of the 1950s is being constructed entirely as a visitor center for Alzheimer's patients inside a warehouse in San Diego.

The shops and restaurants will be staffed, the theater will show movies from the 50s, and the nursery will house lifelike therapy dolls for patients to care for, all to help jog their memories of their youth and spark conversations.

- Originally published by Daily Mail

Visitors to Town Square will be able to play with real animals from the local Animal Rescue Society at the pet store, walk down the aisles of a grocery store, enjoy the grand lobby of a vintage hotel, get their nails done in a beauty salon or workout at the fitness center - all designed like the 50s.

The idea of Town Square is to utilize reminiscence therapy in an immersive environment. Reminiscence therapy is a commonly used practice that has been shown to help reasoning, memory and attention for people with dementia, but the Glenner Town Square will be the first of its kind in the US.

"Nothing's fake about town square," said Scott Tarde, CEO of the George G. Glenner Alzheimer's Family Center. "Each one of the store fronts is fully functional. It's designed to be an immersive experience and really have programmatic value in each one of the store fronts.

"Reminiscence therapy is really an opportunity to cap into long term memories."

"Short term memories are typically more affected [by Alzheimer's disease] than long term memories. So if you create this type of environment, the idea is that it will allow for unlocking some of those long term memories and creating an experience that is really beneficial to the participant and their family."

That is why Town Square will look like it's from the 50s. Most Alzheimer's and dementia patients were in their teens, 20s and 30s at that time, when they formed some of their stronger memories like graduating high school, getting married and having children.

Scheduled to open in 2018, the entire town is being built from scratch by the San Diego Opera's set designers, with some help from a Hollywood prop company that will recreate and replicate some of the pieces inside Town Square.

Architect Douglas Pancake, who specializes in housing for senior citizens and interior designer Marsha Sewell, who specializes in historic buildings, are helping to design Town Square, which will be run by the George G. Glenner Alzheimer's Family Center like a daycare.

Families will be allowed to go through Town Square with their loved ones or leave them for a few hours or the entire day, from 8am to 7pm.

The center will be split into six different neighborhoods based on areas in San Diego. Patients will be grouped with others who are like them and each group will move through the storefronts and do activities like playing with animals at the pet store, having a coffee at the cafe or seeing a movie in the theater.

Click to see the images

They'll even be able to go in a garage and tinker with the real 1959 Thunderbird, which the Glenner Center has already bought. It now sits at one of their centers and after it was brought there, a patient who has dementia saw the headlights and declared it was a '58 or later.

Though it might not seem to be a big deal, "being able to say 'That is so-and-so' - that is amazing", Sewell told The Atlantic.

The activities will be organized by the Glenner Center to specifically help Alzheimer's and dementia patients. Tarde said it is important to remember that Town Square is not meant to be juvenile or silly.

"This is a dignified experience and something that really is beneficial for the families as well. Family members really don't have that opportunity to engage with their loved ones and go to places like a movie theater. It's not even an option for them anymore.

"I don't think people always realize that when you don't have the opportunity to experience things with your partner or your parent or things that you've done through your life, it's pretty devastating. So the idea here is that you're triggering memories and triggering an experience for both individuals that will hopefully have a meaningful experience for both of them."

Though this is the first center of its kind in the US, the Glenner Center is a 35-year-old non-profit organization devoted to caring for people with memory impairment.

They already have three centers in the San Diego area where they care for Alzheimer's and dementia patients in other daycare programs.

There are an estimated 5.4million Americans with Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association. That number is expected to grow as Baby Boomers get older and the US population continues to age.

In the midst of that growing number, the Glenner Center hopes to give their patients a better quality of life but they won't stop at San Diego.

- Daily Mail

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