First U.S. 'Dementia Village' Recreates the Past

by Administrator

It all started with a fifth-grade class project. Scott Tarde, CEO of George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers, which has operated dementia day care facilities in California’s San Diego county for 35 years, was amazed at his 12-year-old daughter’s enthusiasm over her Junior Achievement “BizTown” field trip.

A rendering of the Glenner Town Square in San Diego. Credit: Architect Douglas Pancake
In a huge space not unlike a converted shopping mall, the young students took on civic roles such as mayor, bank teller and restaurant owner. The goal was to immerse children in what it takes to run a city and understand the economy.

For Tarde, a lightbulb went on.

Time Capsule Therapy for People With Dementia

For the more than 5 million Americans who have Alzheimer’s, their minds are trapped in a world often many years in the past. Short-term memory loss is common; they may not recognize younger members of the family such as grandchildren. Yet, long-term memories often remain intact. They recall days of their youth and may think an adult son is actually their husband or long-deceased father.

Triggering positive memories from the past is often the goal of families and dementia-care professionals. An approach called reminiscence therapy (RT), initially presented by renowned geriatrician Robert Butler and noted psychologist Erik Erikson, can help dementia patients calm anxiety, soothe aggressive behavior, prevent wandering and improve quality of life, studies have shown.

Tarde and his business development director, Lisa Tyburski, were already using RT in their dementia day care facilities. They wanted to take the concept to a new level. Their vision is to create a completely immersive experience — a faux Main Street U.S.A. circa 1953 to 1961, when many of their dementia patients were in their younger years. Their research led them to the first dementia village. It was created in The Netherlands in 2009 and is called Hogewyck; dementia residents and health care professionals all live in the same enclosed village.

An Old Model for a New Idea

But while Hogeweyk is a 24/7 residential care town with several city blocks, it doesn’t offer the retro style that Tarde and team are building in San Diego, called the Glenner Town Square. And Glenner is a day program, not a residential center.

The “town” encompasses 8,500 square feet, 24 buildings and 12 storefronts — including a diner, Post Office, barbershop, pet store, library, museum and even a movie theater. In it, dementia patients will be able to spend the day exploring this world independently, in small groups or with their families. It offers a secure environment, with the watchful eye of Glenner dementia care professionals operating the storefronts and other businesses and interacting with the patients throughout the day.

The $3 million Glenner Town Square will be built in collaboration with the San Diego Opera Scenic Studio using the artisans and production staff who create the environments and sets for the stage. It is scheduled to open in 2018 and will be the first “dementia village” in the U.S.

Tyburski advises that this is just the beginning. The plan is to build these villages first throughout California, and then to expand nationally. Other long-term care communities across the country may have a nostalgia room with décor and photos, such as The Easton Home near Philadelphia, but Glenner Town Square will be the first planned, and completely standalone, dementia village-style environment that envelopes the dementia patients in a world they know well but which has been gone for more than 50 years.


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