Oct 18, 2018

Memory Town: The Remarkable Benefits of ‘Time Travel’ Therapy

The World Health Organisation estimates that there are roughly 50 million people in the world currently living with dementia, and that Alzheimer’s Disease accounts for 60-70% of these cases in total.

Alzheimer’s disease primarily affects the elderly, damaging the brain and resulting in diminished cognitive abilities which usually can have a devastating effect on a person’s memory.

Your life is your story, but for those of us born in bygone eras, the chances of having all of the significant moments of your life caught on camera or film, are virtually slim to none.

In fact, in the case of a number of elderly people, memories can be their only proof of what they did, where they’ve been, and ultimately who they are.

With this in mind, it’s not hard to envision the crippling effects that memory loss can have on an older person’s psyche and mental health.

Making friends can be hard enough, but imagine trying to form meaningful relationships when your struggling to retain new information and have a slowly fading grasp of who yourself once were.

This lack of ability to effectively communicate often forces elderly people with memory problems to become more introverted and choose not to talk, as to avoid embarrassment.

While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease there has been some exciting progress made in recent years.

Thankfully, it seems that taking a literal walk down memory lane may be the most ironic and effective treatment available for those dealing with memory impairment.

Glenner Town Square

As guests passed through the doors of a generic beige warehouse located on Main Street in Chula Vista, they found themselves entering the 9,000 square-foot working replica of a 1950’s suburb, known as ‘Town Square.’

Created to evoke memories, Town Square was constructed based upon the styling of 1953-1961 America, and not a single detail seems to have been missed.

Boasting streets adorned with rotary phones and portraits of Hollywood stars from the era, it would be impossible not to reminisce, as you stare at the neatly polished 1959 Ford Thunderbird, while swing music blares from a jukebox in the background.

The replica town has 14 different storefronts, including a theatre, a pet store, a diner, a miniature park, a library, a tavern and even a city hall (modeled on San Diego’s actual administration from 1938.)

And is frequently visited by up to 40 regulars with a maximum of

75 occupants at one time.

But even though the appeal of Town Square crosses all age groups and lifestyles, it was actually constructed with a very specific purpose in mind.

Glenner Town Square

People’s strongest and most impactful memories tend to derive from somewhere in the age bracket of 10 to 30, so for those currently in their 70’s and 80’s, this replica 1950’s town is a living, breathing backdrop for some of their fondest memories.

This replica town is currently the biggest U.S investment in a cutting edge technique that aged care specialists are calling reminiscence therapy.

Reminiscence therapy (often called time travel therapy) encourages people with dementia and age-related cognitive impairments to speak about past events and life experiences by utilising objects from their formative years to stimulate memories.

Studies have shown that this type of therapy has a positive effect on the mood, communication, and cognitive ability of dementia patients, ultimately enriching their lives.

While Town Square is revolutionary in nature, it is actually not the first time that a replica town has shown significant benefits to those of an older age that live with symptoms of dementia.

De Hogeweyk, is a gated model village located in the Netherlands that has approximately 150 residents living within it, all of which currently deal with severe dementia.

This innovative model of live-in dementia treatment, integrates plain-clothed workers and assistants into the everyday lives of those living with dementia, who are housed within the hyperreality housing complex.

Those working within Hogeweyk, provide assisted living duties and provide 24 hour a day care for all residents, blurring the lines between neighbour, carer and friend.

Australia is also no stranger to replica villages or assisted living hyperreality communities.

Sydney’s Scalabrini Village is a retro-Italian themed aged care facility that focuses on presenting residents with a controlled community environment with a European flavour.

While Tasmanians currently await the construction of the Korongee Complex will be an assisted living community catered to the needs of those dealing with dementia.

While towns and complexes like this are fantastic initiatives, the majority of elderly people will not have access to these facilities.But the ideas behind them can be applied in day to day life.

The elderly can utilise memory aids from around the home such as  photos, movies, and music from their adolescence, to help recall some of their lives most pivotal moments and reconnect with who they are.

Meaning, that when it comes to exploring the future of dementia treatment, we should actually start to turn around and begin to look at the past.

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