The fake Fifties town being built to help dementia sufferers remember their younger years

A whole Fifties style town square is being built to help patients with dementia to remember their youth. Called Glenner Town Square, the downtown features shops, restaurants, a town hall, a nursery, and even a cinema, which will be showing Singin’ in the Rain.

The town, which is built to a Fifties style around a green is being constructed inside a large warehouse in San Diego, California, as a visitor destination for people with Alzheimer’s. All the shops and restaurants will be staffed and will stock items from the era and the movie theater will be showing films from the decade. Meanwhile the nursery will be home to therapy dolls which patients can help to care for.

The idea is to get dementia patients to remember their younger days, and to use those memories to start converstions. Patients will be able to see the animals as a pet store, browse groceries and get treatments in a beauty salon.

Drawing out memories

The whole concept is geared around reminiscence therapy which will take place in a completely immersive environment. It is the first project of its kind in America. Scott Tarde, who is chief executive of the George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Center dismissed any suggestion that the town square was fake, saying each of the store fronts would be fully functional.

He explained that by using reminiscence therapy, it could be possible to tap into longer term memories. Because short term memories are more likely to be impacted by dementia, it can be possible to unlock long term memories and to create a beneficial experience for a patient.

The Fifties has been chosen as an era because most patients would have been in their teens, twenties and thirties at that point and programme operators are hoping that they can help them to dig deep and draw out memories about high school, their wedding day or having their children.

Due to launch next year, the town is being built by designers from San Diego Opera and a Hollywood prop company.

Judith is a qualified journalist who has worked in both the UK and the US, specialising in writing about politics, education and health.