There are 190,000 adults 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s in the Garden State, and by 2025 that number is expected to rise to 210,000. The 2022 Facts and Figures report by the Alzheimer’s Association in March highlights the prevalence of the disease and other memory challenges including mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, which affects 12% to 16% of people over 60 and leads to between 10% and 15% of those folks developing dementia each year.
Enter Town Square, the adult day enrichment center providing seniors with memory issues (and plenty without) with reminiscence therapy, a nonpharmacological intervention defined by the American Psychological Association as “the use of life histories – written, oral, or both – to improve psychological well-being.”
While there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s or other dementias, Town Square and eldercare centers like it use reminiscence therapy, which coaxes seniors into comfort with old school music and visuals from the past.
Town Square takes it further with a fully immersive experience. The enrichment centers, which opened in Brick and Princeton over the last year, are designed floor to ceiling to make folks feel as if they’ve traveled back in time. Both New Jersey centers have a 1950s-era diner, golden age movies at the Starlite Theater, garage with a beautiful vintage car, and newsstand, as well as a library, art studio, recreation room, and music room. All facets of the center are arranged around Glenner Park, the heart of Town Square.
The center is open to those with memory issues as well as independent seniors. For the latter, Town Square is a place to center their social lives: come for the day, play pool with new pals, eat in the ‘50s-era diner, and hone skills in an art class. For the former, activities are geared toward cognitive level, and owner and president at Town Square Jersey Shore and Town Square Princeton Kevin Herman said it increases their ability to interact with others.
“When you get older, what really happens is your childhood memories become a lot stronger, so when you reminisce it takes you back to that period in time. It sounds like a simple concept but it really helps people come enjoy the day. Also, with people who have Alzheimer’s and dementia it helps them with anxiety, helps them to sleep better, to focus better,” said Herman.
The reminiscence therapy movement was started by Dr. Robert Butler, who published a paper on the importance of life review and reminiscence in 1963. A researcher named Charles Lewis created the first experimental study on reminiscence in 1971, and the success of that study led to further research, including by the Department of Health and Social Security in 1978.
Town Square is a franchise concept launched by Maryland-based home health care provider Senior Helpers and the George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers in California, which created an original Town Square prototype in Chula Vista in 2018. Herman was a longtime Senior Helpers franchisee and a physical therapist with a passion for working with older populations.
The positive results and feedback he’s seen from the enrichment centers thus far “blew [his] mind.” Herman said.
“One of my favorite stories is a gentleman who was very anxious and resistant to coming. [We were] able to put some programming together to get him engaged over time, and he’s now our spokesperson,” Herman said. “His wife has told me how much better he is at home, how much less anxious he is, how she’s less frustrated. He even came off his anxiety drugs. Just by the right interactions, it helped him with a medical condition.”
Seniors can come for a half day for $109 or a full day for $149; and the price includes breakfast, catered lunch, snacks throughout the day, and the day’s activities. Think of it like a summer camp seniors can show up to as many days a week that they want, all year long. While Medicare does not cover the costs, long term care insurance does and military veterans can get up to 12 free days per month.
“It makes such a difference being able to get out of the house and socialize and talk to people on your level. If changes everything,” Herman said.
Town Square is also a family education center, offering support groups and education for families on how to deal with aging loved ones. And for seniors with challenges outside of the memory realm, the center has clinicians on staff including speech therapists, audiologists, podiatrists, physical therapists, and more. Therefore, they can have any services at the center that would otherwise be at home, taking even more weight off of family members.
Herman plans to open more New Jersey locations, with plans set for Marlton and eyes on Freehold.s