A senior care company is redeveloping a former Rite Aid store in Perry Hall as an alternative day care site for seniors experiencing the effects of aging or cognitive impairment with a 1950s-style twist.

The so-called Town Square enrichment center is designed to replicate a mid-century town square with a diner, movie theater, library and park in the middle.

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Expected to be completed in the next two to three months, the Belair Road center will offer a range of indoor activities, services and adult learning programs.

The project is being developed by a partnership between Seniors Helpers, a Towson-based in-home care company, and the George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers Inc., which created the prototype Town Square in Chula Vista, Calif.

Incorporating retro decor will “create a space where people feel comfortable” and hark back to a time when some seniors’ strongest memories occurred, said Christina Chartrand, Town Square’s vice president of training and program development.

Such reminiscence programs, which are therapeutic tools often used with people experiencing dementia, Alzheimer’s and other memory loss problems, spark discussions and memories about the past via tangible objects or prompts that remind patients of happy occasions. Research shows reminiscence therapy can be beneficial in improving mood and lessening agitation among patients, said George Hennawi, medical director of geriatric services for MedStar Health.

Hennawi said reminiscence therapy as a practice is growing in popularity among the medical community and can be valuable in increasing self-confidence and reducing depression among patients experiencing memory loss. He said that while dementia and Alzheimer’s patients typically struggle with short-term memory loss, memories from early on in life tend remain intact longer.

“We can tap into the existing memory and bring stuff from the past, using a structure, or a photograph, or a type of fashion,” Hennawi said. “All of these things might engage the brain and make them a little bit happier.”

The 11,000-square-foot-plus space will include a library and enrichment center where members can learn and even teach from their own self-designed lesson plans; a gardening room; an exercise area, with physical therapy and occupational therapy services available; a 35-seat theater with surround sound and a stage; a dining area that will serve catered meals and snacks; an art studio; and a game room.

Participants will be able to customize their daily schedules as they wish. Staffers expect members to rotate through as many as four of the “vignettes” per visit. Trained “program aides” will lead activities and help people transition between rooms. A nurse will remain in the facility throughout the day.

Peter J. Ross, CEO and co-founder of in-home care provider Senior Helpers, said the program will offer more activities, stimulation and autonomy than any other program like it. Town Square, he said, eliminates the “bingo and applesauce” stereotype of adult day care and will provide seniors a place they can look forward to visiting.

“We’re going to change the way people are taken care of in this country,” Ross said at Wednesday’s official groundbreaking ceremony. “We’re not looking to fool anybody. We want them to have fun. We want them to leave tired."

Ross said few other group care options like Town Square exist for seniors, a need the company intends to fill. He said the partnership plans to open 100 other Town Square locations in the next three to four years and have sold at least 10 franchises to owners around the country.

The Perry Hall Town Square will operate initially on weekdays from about 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with early drop-off and pickup options available, but Ross said the staff will explore providing evening and weekend activities as well. He hopes 100 to 120 people will come every day.

A full day at Town Square will cost about $90, Ross said. He suggested the rate was an affordable alternative to in-home care, which can be difficult to find and expensive since many pay for it out of pocket. He said Town Square also might offer a respite for personal aides and family members, who frequently become worn down from their responsibilities.

“The goal is to get as many people as possible to help them,” he said.

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