Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Injustice

San Diego Alzheimer’s Day Care Center Recreates 1950s To Stimulate Brains

People walk around Glenner Town Square, a miniature village for Alzheimer's p...

Photo by Susan Murphy

Above: People walk around Glenner Town Square, a miniature village for Alzheimer's patients that replicates the 1950s to help stimulate lost memories, Aug. 14, 2018.

Dozens of Alzheimer’s patients from all walks of life journeyed together down memory lane Wednesday at Glenner Town Square, a miniature village replicating the 1950s.

The former executives, teachers and business owners, many in their 80s, were encourage to revive their sealed away recollections of the bygone era through the sights and sounds from when they were in their teens and 20s.

“Alzheimer’s disease is a brutal disease. What we’re trying to do here is create an experience that’s consistent with where their strongest memories are,” said Scott Tarde, CEO of the nonprofit George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers and creator of the newly opened town, set inside a Chula Vista warehouse.

Photo by Susan Murphy

Men with Alzheimer's disease play pool and shoot hoops at the Gone Fishin' Pub at Glenner Town Square, Aug. 14, 2018.

“It’s really designed to be like a functioning city,” Tarde said. “We have 10,000 square feet, 24-foot ceilings, natural skylights throughout."

With a shared gaze in their eyes, seniors played games in the town library, painted pictures in the little blue house and sang songs together in the old-fashioned theater.

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,” some belted out enthusiastically, while others sat quietly taking it all in.

Photo by Susan Murphy

People with Alzheimer's and dementia participate in activities at the Glenner Town Square day care center in Chula Vista, Aug. 14, 2018.

Inside the town clinic, women cradled and fed baby dolls. At the pub, some men played pool and shot hoops. One woman perused old comic books and newspapers at the newsstand, with headlines reading “Roosevelt Dies” and "Plot Against Hitler Disclosed.”

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease marked by memory loss, especially short-term impairment. Their minds are often trapped decades in the past.

Tarde said the new adult day care center is working to help people trigger their long-term memories to improve their quality of life. Each day, trained caregivers guide small groups through a dozen colorful and interactive storefronts and stations.

Photo by Susan Murphy

Women hold therapeutic baby dolls at the clinic at Glenner Town Square, a day care center for Alzheimer's patients, Aug. 14, 2018.

“They spend about 45 minutes at each store front receiving customized programming based on someone’s likes, interest levels, cognitive functioning,” he explained.

Each area is designed with 1950s artifacts — rotary dial phones, old fashioned typewriters, jukeboxes, newspapers from back in the day — they are all prompts for social engagement. The concept is called reminiscence therapy, Tarde said.

“Reminiscence therapy says people make their strongest memories between the ages of 10 and 30,” Tarde said. “That’s a lot of time when people make their first memories, so graduating high school, graduating college, marriage, children, first job.”

Tarde, who has worked with Alzheimer’s patients for two decades, said triggering memories helps reduce anxiety and promotes well being. He said the village also gives people a sense of purpose.

“If they used to work in an office, we have an office. If they used to visit a diner, we have a diner. If they liked to go to the library and enjoy books, we have a library,” he said.

Photo by Susan Murphy

Alzheimer's patients play games and read books at the 1950s-era library at Glenner Town Square, Aug. 14, 2018.

Participants can tinker with an old Ford Thunderbird at the gas station, where a gallon costs 22 cents. They can play with animatronic dogs and cats at the pet store. Lunch is served at Rosie’s diner with their favorite oldies playing softly from a jukebox.

While Alzheimer’s patients were remembering their past, researchers converged at the University of San Diego to focus on the present.

“There are more than 5.7 million people living with Alzheimer’s today,” said Heather Snyder, national senior director of scientific operations at the Alzheimer’s Association. “More than 50 million people providing support for someone living with Alzheimer’s or dementia.”

Snyder was part of a panel that provided an overview to the public on Wednesday night of the latest developments in national and local Alzheimer’s disease and dementia research.

Snyder said more than 200 clinical trials are underway in the search for an Alzheimer’s treatment.

“When we look across that entire pipeline we see drugs for instance, or experimental drugs for instance that are targeting the beta amyloid protein — this is one of the hallmark brain changes we see in Alzheimer’s — the clumps of the beta amyloid," Snyder said. "We see drugs that are targeting the tau protein, the other hallmark brain change that we see in Alzheimer’s, and saying, 'can we change, can we remove the tau using our immune system,' for instance.”

While there’s promise, Snyder said there is currently no cure, and no therapy to slow the progression.

“But where we are now is our understanding that the biology is changing a decade or more before an individual’s memory is changed or affected,” Snyder said. “That gives us an opportunity to think about — can we intervene at that earlier time point and change the trajectory.”

Snyder said one encouraging new study involving 9,000 people showed that aggressively lowering systolic blood pressure to 120 could significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.

“Nineteen percent less people developed mild cognitive impairment and 15 percent less people developed mild cognitive impairment and dementia,” she said.

For now, the disease is the third leading cause of death in San Diego, where 84,000 people have the mind-robbing disease. By the year 2030, the number of people in the county diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia is expected to soar 36 percent.

Photo by Susan Murphy

People with Alzheimer's or dementia eat lunch at Rosie's Diner, where baking classes and Bingo games also take place, Aug. 14, 2018.

At Glenner Town Square, Tarde is hoping to make the disease more tolerable for patients and their families. He said the region is not prepared for the future.

“We have to be ready for this influx because we have all these baby boomers coming through that are at some point going to need services,” Tarde said. “And the greatest predictor of Alzheimer’s disease is age.”

Tarde is joining with in-home senior care provider Senior Helpers to open 200 more Glenner Town Square villages across the country over the next five years, including a half-dozen more in San Diego County. An 8-hour visit costs $95. Participants must be pre-assessed and enrolled to attend.

Dozens of Alzheimer’s patients from all walks of life journeyed together down memory lane Wednesday at Glenner Town Square, a miniature village replicating the 1950s.



San Diego News Now podcast branding

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.

  • Need help keeping up with the news that matters most? Get the day's top news — ranging from local to international — straight to your inbox each weekday morning.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Midday Edition banner

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.