Inside a sprawling beige warehouse in Southern California is what some researchers believe could be the next big thing in dementia care. Town Square, a 9,000-square-foot replica of a 1950s-era town in Chula Vista, California, is designed to jog the memories of people with dementia by surrounding them with familiar places and activities from their past.
The replica, which is part of the George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Center’s roster of adult day centers, is impressively detailed. The town has 14 storefronts including a vintage shop, movie theater playing old films, a working diner, and an old-school gas station, complete with a 1950s Thunderbird that visitors can sit inside. Patients rotate through each location and participate in activities based on their abilities.
The whole thing is designed to get patients moving around and socializing with each other. “Every storefront lends itself to reminiscing,” Scott Tarde, CEO of the Glenner Centers, told CityLab. “In the library, they’ll do everything from puzzles to having storytellers come in. In the pet store, animal therapy.”
Town Square builds on what researchers call “reminiscence therapy,” a type of dementia care that uses prompts from a person’s past to reduce agitation, improve social skills, and help people sleep (the most enduring memories tend to be those from age 10 to 30 researchers say). In the case of Town Square, the space is designed to recall the years 1953 to 1961 for boomers, who are now in their 80s.
The Southern California space is the first to open, but the Glenner Center has plans to open Memory Towns across the country over the next few years. Eventually, as the boomers age out and a new generation needs therapy, the props will change to reflect a different, long-ago moment in time.