After working with people with dementia for many years as a licensed nursing home administrator, Scott Tarde was fed up with the lack of affordable care options. So as the CEO of George G. Glenner Alzheimer's Family Centers, he decided to reimagine a new kind of day care: a faux mini-town with a 1950s and 1960s look designed for people with dementia. His concept is based on reminiscence therapy. His creation is Glenner Town Square, set to open in San Diego next spring.
Reminiscence therapy, developed by psychologist Ellen Langer in 1979, involves the use of past activities, events and experiences with other people, usually with the aid of music and tangible, visual prompts from earlier years, such as photographs and familiar household items.
Glenner Town Square bathes the senses in sights and smells to reflect a person's younger days. Its 9,000 square feet of space, designed by renowned architect Douglas Pancake, sits in an industrial building and will include a pet store with shelter puppies, department store with clothes and a movie theater with real popcorn. Everyplace is staffed with trained caregivers.
Besides being fun, the retro town, outfitted with gas-lit streetlamps, also has real uses, like triggering positive past memories, say experts, and can help people with dementia feel calmer and need fewer drugs. The goal is to offer a safe location where residents have a structured day, as well as autonomy and independence — giving them a higher quality of life.
"We're taking people back to their strongest memories," says Tarde, noting it is a form of time-travel therapy. "Long-term memories are more preserved than short-term ones."