Mini-city being built for dementia and Alzheimer's patients

Posted at 8:26 PM, Oct 03, 2016

Inside four huge warehouses in Barrio Logan, the San Diego Opera's carpenters and painters are busy building sets for some of their most popular productions.  But, their latest project is very unique. 

“The city hall from circa 1955- 1965.  This is a functional building.  It has two offices inside here when it's set up,” said San Diego Opera’s General Director David Bennett.

They're creating what will be called Town Square - a San Diego themed city built just for Alzheimer's and Dementia patients.

"We can make it authentic and real.  And at the same time, it's representational,” said San Diego Opera Production Carpenter and Technical Director John Peters.

The idea came from Scott Tarde, the CEO of the Glenner Alzheimer's Family Centers.  He thought about it after his daughter spent the day at Junior Achievement’s BizTown – a mini-city where school-aged children discover how to start and run a successful business.

He thought Alzheimer’s and dementia patients would benefit greatly from a similar kind of immersive experience.    

"If we're able to replicate a city like we plan to do in the 1950s-1960s era, we can really utilize those tangible prompts to bring individuals back to that time,” said Tarde.

Most Alzheimer's patients are in their early 80s.  Research shows their strongest memories are from ages 15 to 35.  The idea is to recreate the city they remember -  a form of Reminiscence therapy. 

"Research shows it reduces agitation, it improves mood and sleep quality beneficial not only to the patients but to their family care givers who are the silent victims,” said Tarde. 

The 15,000 square foot replica will have San Diego's historic storefronts including a museum, a movie theatre, city hall and familiar items including vintage cars and a 1950s jukebox, which will be inside a dinner and will be playing tunes from that era.

Town Square will open sometime in 2018 in an industrial warehouse on the west side of Chula Vista.

It will provide day programs for patients between the hours of 7am-7pm.

To help raise $1 Million to make Town Square a reality, visit

The project not only benefits patients, but it also provides a new source of work for San Diego Opera carpenters and painters.  The company nearly closed down in 2014, but it now has turned itself around financially. 

"We are trying to find ways where we can much more a part of the civic fabric of San Diego and we see this as a great example,” said San Diego Opera General Director David Bennett.