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This article was written by Brittany Hambleton, co-founder of The Taste Archives

According to the World Health Organization, the number of people diagnosed worldwide with Dementia in 2015 was estimated at 47 million. Nearly 9.9 million new cases of dementia are reported every year, which equates to a new case every 3 seconds.  The number of people affected by the disease is expected to rise to 75 million by the year 2030, and to 132 million by 2050. (1)  

Not only is dementia overwhelming and heartbreaking for the affected individual, but it also puts immense physical, emotional and financial strain on the caregiver. (2) When compared to non-dementia family caregivers, dementia caregivers spend significantly more hours per week providing care and report increased employment complications, mental and physical health problems, decreased leisure and family time and increased family conflict. (3)

For these reasons, many family caregivers choose to move their loved one to a long-term care facility.  These places, however, can often be sterile and depressing for the person suffering from dementia, and has not shown to significantly reduce the stress on the family caregiver. (4)

What is Dementia?

Dementia is not specifically a disease, but instead is a term used to describe a wide range of symptoms associated with damage to brain cells.(5)  While most people associate the condition with the elderly, dementia is not actually a normal part of ageing. (1)

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Common symptoms include:

  • Memory loss

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Difficulty carrying out daily tasks (such as counting change)

  • Struggling to follow a conversation

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  • Confusion over time and place

  • Having mood swings. (6)  

Because of this, sufferers of dementia cannot be left alone for very long and therefore require constant care and supervision. They are often confused or lost, and since they have difficulty communicating with others they can feel isolated and lonely. Currently there is no way to reverse dementia, and treatment methods vary greatly in efficacy.

A New Kind of Therapy

One organization is about to change the way we interact with and treat those who are suffering from dementia. The George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Center is creating a space where dementia sufferers and their families can go to take a step back in time and provide happy memories for patients.  

Glenner Town Square will be the first U.S. “Dementia Village” that will envelop patients in the world they remember from their past. (7) The idea for the village is based off of an approach to dementia treatment called Reminiscence Therapy (RT). RT uses the discussion of past events, activities and experiences usually with the aid of photographs and familiar items and sounds (such as household items and music), to trigger happy memories and encourage participants to interact.(8) This approach has been shown to reduce anxiety, sooth aggressive behaviour and improve quality of life (7) as well as improve cognition in the patient and reduce stress for the caregiver (8).  

The village, located in San Diego, California, will be 2500 square feet. It will have 24 buildings and 12 storefronts, including a diner, post office, barber shop, pet store, library, museum and movie theatre, all set in a typical main street U.S.A. circa 1953 to 1961 (7).

How will this help?

For people suffering with dementia, short-term memory loss is common.  Recognizing grandchildren, for example, is often difficult for them. More often than not, however, they remember their past.  

Triggering these memories through objects, smells and sounds can bring the patient back to a time when they weren’t confused and ease their anxiety. A town like this will also give the opportunity for patient and caregiver to interact with one another in a safe environment where they are watched by care professionals should anything go wrong.  

It can often be very difficult for caregivers to take their loved one out in public because they are faced with having to explain their loved one’s dementia to other people, leaving them with a stigma around how people treat them.(7) Here, there is no need for any explanations and patients and caregivers are free to explore the town together.

The town is also a great place for younger people, such as grandchildren, to interact with their family member suffering from dementia. It gives the patient a chance to talk to younger generations about their early years, giving the younger people an opportunity to learn more about who their loved one once was.

The start of something new

The $3 million project, built in collaboration with the San Diego Opera Scenic studio is set to open by 2018, with plans to continue building more throughout California before expanding throughout the rest of the United States.

Towns like this are the new face of dementia care, so keep an eye out as more are being built across the country.  In the meantime, if you have a loved one suffering from dementia, you do not need an entire town square to use Reminiscence Therapy.

Using photos, video, music, and other objects from their past to help trigger memories can have an immense impact on your loved one’s quality of life, and give you the opportunity to interact with them in ways you otherwise may not be able to.

  1. 10 facts on dementia. (n.d.). Retrieved October 04, 2017, from http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/dementia/en/

  2. Family Caregiving of Persons With Dementia: Prevalence, Health Effects, and Support Strategies. (2012, September 23). Retrieved October 04, 2017, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1064748112617746

  3. Ory, M. G., Hoffman, R. R., Yee, J. L., Tennstedt, S., & Schulz, R. (1999, April 01). Prevalence and Impact of Caregiving: A Detailed Comparison Between Dementia and Nondementia Caregivers | The Gerontologist | Oxford Academic. Retrieved October 04, 2017, from https://academic.oup.com/gerontologist/article/39/2/177/610023/Prevalence-and-Impact-of-Caregiving-A-Detailed

  4. Thakur, M., & Blazer, D. G. (2008, February). Depression in long-term care. Retrieved October 04, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18261699

  5. Dementia | Signs, Symptoms & Diagnosis. (n.d.). Retrieved October 04, 2017, from http://www.alz.org/what-is-dementia.asp

  6. Symptoms of dementia – Dementia guide. (n.d.). Retrieved October 04, 2017, from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/dementia-guide/Pages/symptoms-of-dementia.aspx

  7. First U.S. ‘Dementia Village’ Recreates a Happier Time. (2017, August 28). Retrieved October 04, 2017, from http://www.nextavenue.org/dementia-village-recreates-happier-time/

  8. The Cochrane LibraryPublished Online: 20 APR 2005. (n.d.). Retrieved October 04, 2017, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD001120.pub2/pdf/

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