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This article on the plans for a new kind of Alzheimer’s care center and village in San Diego 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).  

Dementia is overwhelming and heartbreaking for the affected individual, but 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 Alzheimer’s care center. These places, however, can often be sterile and depressing for the person suffering from dementia, and have not been shown to significantly reduce the stress on the family caregiver. (4)

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What is Dementia?

Dementia is not specifically a disease. It is, rather, 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 aging. (1)

Common symptoms of dementia include:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty carrying out daily tasks (such as counting change)
  • Struggling to follow a conversation
  • 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 of a personal caregiver or an Alzheimer’s care center. They are often confused or lost, and they may feel isolated and lonely, as they have difficulty communicating with others. Currently, there is no way to reverse dementia, and treatment methods vary greatly in efficacy.

Glenner Town Square: A New Kind of Alzheimer’s Care Center

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.  

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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 on 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 with others (8). This approach has been shown to reduce anxiety, soothe aggressive behavior, and improve quality of life (7), as well as improve cognition in the patient and reduce stress for the caregiver (8).  

This 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., reminiscent of those build between 1953 and 1961 (7).

How Will The Village Help?

For people suffering from 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 allow the patient and caregiver to interact with one another in a safe environment where they are watched by care professionals should anything go wrong.  

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It can often be very difficult for caregivers to take their loved one out in public because they often end up in situations where they must explain their loved one’s dementia to other people or face stigma (7). Here, there is no need for explanations, and patients and caregivers are free to explore the town together without social difficulties.

The town is also a great place for younger people, like the grandchildren of those with dementia, to interact with family members suffering from dementia. It gives the patient a chance to talk to younger generations about their early years and provides them the opportunity to learn more about their loved ones.

The Start of Something New

This $3 million project, built in collaboration with the San Diego Opera Scenic studio, is set to open by 2018, with plans to open more locations 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 for them across the country.  In the meantime, if you have a loved one suffering from dementia, you can still use Reminiscence Therapy to ease them, no town required.

Using photos, video, music, and other objects from their past to help trigger memories could 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 would not have.

  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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