New Alzheimer's Center Designed as a Town From 1950s. Aimed to Help Patients Remember Youth


When a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, their family members know that it is only a matter of time until their memory starts to dwindle.

My great-uncle suffers from the disease, and I spent my most recent visit with him repeating information about my job and life, trying to phrase it differently in hopes that he might retain some of the information. It was heartbreaking for me, and I’m sure a little frustrating for him.

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One center in San Diego, California, has created something magical to try and help Alzheimer’s and dementia patients walk down memory lane.

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Glenner Town Square is an adult center run by the nonprofit George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Center that has been designed to look like a town in the 1950s. It will be the first nonprofit, immersive day care program that specializes in Alzheimer’s and dementia in the U.S.

The day center relies on reminiscence therapy, which uses pictures and items from the past to tap into a patient’s strongest memories — constructed from the ages 10 to 30. This kind of therapy has been shown to improve mood and sleep quality as well as reduce agitation.

“It’s very therapeutic for people with dementia,” Lisa Tyburski, the Director of Business Development at the Glenner Center, said. “Basically what it does is use tangible prompts from people’s past to bring out memories that are still in there.”

The set up of Town Square is designed to trigger the past memories. Patients can walk through interactive storefronts such as a movie theater and a diner to immerse themselves in an environment that is familiar and comfortable to them.

Glenner Center CEO and Executive Director Scott Tarde told the U.K. Daily Mail that a black 1959 Ford Thunderbird has been one of the most successful tools.

“Some participants will respond differently to different things, but consistently with that vehicle, I’ve seen a very powerful reaction. I think it’s just something about vehicles in general,” he said. “People have strong memories around cars, you know, excitement about learning how to drive. Or it symbolizes family trips and going places and it’s just some deeply rooted memories around travel and cars.

“What we’re trying to do is create an experience that is consistent with where their strongest memories are.”

The staff at the center will offer 24-hour care dressed as normal people to fit in with the image of the town. If a patient is confused, however, a staff member will explain to them where they are.

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The Town Square will open this April. All they are waiting for is a certificate of occupancy for the San Diego warehouse it is being built out of.

Patients will get to wander through Town Square in a group of other participants and they get to participate in different activities at each of the 11 storefronts.

“We want to demonstrate that the use of these storefronts and the way that the program’s designed — with grouping people and rotating them — really returns them back to their family caregivers having an even more fulfilled day and allowes them to sleep at night which is a huge benefit to a family caregiver … especially if they’re dealing with their own families,” Tarde said.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.7 million Americans are living with this disease.

“We need solutions. We have got to figure out ways for family caregivers to have respite and to have affordable respite,” Tarde said. “And until this terrible disease is eradicated from the planet and we can turn the Town Squares into senior fun zones, we’ve got to keep pushing forward. Because there’s an incredible demand for these types of services and we’re behind.”

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Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. A University of Oregon graduate, Erin has conducted research in data journalism and contributed to various publications as a writer and editor.
Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. She grew up in San Diego, California, proceeding to attend the University of Oregon and graduate with honors holding a degree in journalism. During her time in Oregon, Erin was an associate editor for Ethos Magazine and a freelance writer for Eugene Magazine. She has conducted research in data journalism, which has been published in the book “Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future.” Erin is an avid runner with a heart for encouraging young girls and has served as a coach for the organization Girls on the Run. As a writer and editor, Erin strives to promote social dialogue and tell the story of those around her.
Tucson, Arizona
Graduated with Honors
Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, University of Oregon
Books Written
Contributor for Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future
Prescott, Arizona
Languages Spoken
English, French
Topics of Expertise
Politics, Health, Entertainment, Faith