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New Town Square franchise brings ‘reminisce therapy’ to senior care


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Clients can work on vintage cars in Town Square franchises.

A working auto shop with a sparkling vintage Belair parked out front. A 1950s-style diner evoking those malt-shop and bobby sock days. A theater screening classic films like “High Noon” and “Some Like It Hot.”

You’ll find replicas of these throwbacks and more at Town Square, a new franchise offering “reminisce therapy” to adults with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, in day programming that takes them back to a golden time in their lives.

“It’s kind of an interesting concept,” said Peter Ross about Town Square, the fourth franchise he has had a hand in launching. “It’s a 10,000-square-foot space that we convert into a 1950s and ‘60s working town. You’re going back in time,” he said because research shows reminisce therapy helps elderly patients who have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

“You have all these storefronts. In Baltimore there’s a 1954 Belair parked in front of a garage. There’s a Rosie’s Diner, a Starlight movie theater, an art studio, a garden shop,” said Ross. “Each one of these things will be doing programming to create prompts and activities around them.” Ross does not use the term adult day care. “It’s demeaning to seniors,” he said.

“They’re going to go back into a life they’re used to in a reminiscent therapy program,” Ross explained. “Our fondest memories occur between ages 15 and 30,” when people get their first boyfriend or girlfriend, graduate from high school, maybe get married and start a family.

Ross is also CEO and co-founder of Senior Helpers, ranked No. 2 among home healthcare providers for percentage sales gains in the Franchise Times Top 200+ list published in October. Senior Helpers posted $362 million in sales for a 20.7 percent increase from the prior year.

FirstLight Home Care claimed the top spot on the growers list, with $117 million in sales and a 23.3 percent growth rate. Synergy HomeCare was No. 3, with $159 million in sales and a 13.8 percent increase.

Home Instead Senior Care, ranked No. 72 on our annual list among all 500 franchise brands, is the largest in the sector, with $1.76 billion in sales and an 11.5 percent increase from the prior year.

In all, 13 homecare brands on the Franchise Times list compete for franchisees and customers, and Ross expect his fourth brand, Town Square, to pump up sales even more at Senior Helpers once it gets rolling, plus differentiate the brand from the rest.

A corporate location is nearing completion in Baltimore, where Senior Helpers is headquartered, and franchises are being sold around the country, including to a leading Senior Helpers franchisee in Philadelphia who is buying four. Town Square franchisees sign an agreement to use staffing from Senior Helpers, which is contracted at a slightly reduced rate.

A typical Town Square might use 15 program aides a day, working for eight hours each. “That’s $700,000 a year” in increased revenue at a Senior Helpers location, he estimates. “From a cost perspective, Town Square is about $12 an hour, versus home care is double that,” he adds.

Ross’s partner in Town Square is the Glenner Foundation in San Diego, which develops adult day programming for seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Glenner Foundation created the Town Square concept, and the chair of the board is a Senior Helpers franchisee in San Diego.

The not-for-profit Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Center, founded by University of California San Diego School of Medicine physician George Glenner and his wife, developed the first Town Square to help people with dementia. The interactive environment is crafted to “transport seniors to the past, helping to preserve cognitive function and memories linked to that part of their life,” according to Home Health Care News.

Scott Tarde, CEO of the Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers, told NBC research shows taking people back to a former, familiar time is shown to reduce agitation, improve mood and improve sleep quality. The idea is to “ignite patients’ brains with memories of their youth,” Tarde told special anchor Maria Shriver in a spot about the country’s first “dementia town square,” as she called it, in April 2018.

Similar concepts include an Ohio-based assisted living center with a resort-like design, which debuted in 2016. In 2009, a village said to be dementia-friendly was founded in the Netherlands, where patients live full-time, said the NBC report.

Ross didn’t at first expect Senior Helpers’ owners to be interested in Town Square. “It was really not meant to sell to Senior Helper owners, because it’s a different investment profile. It’s a different kind of model than a traditional home care franchise would be,” because home care franchises are typically low cost. Town Square, in a large, bricks and mortar location, will cost $1.2- to $1.7 million to get going.

He’s discovering sites are easier than expected to find given the slew of large retailers closing their doors. Rather than locating in industrial areas, as he expected he would have to, real estate is easy to come by in the heart of suburban main streets. “The one in Baltimore is in a former Rite-Aid,” he said. “We were able to get really prime retail.”

Ross said the other two brands he franchised, both of them sold, are Doctors Express and Assist the Transition, now known as Care Patrol and a part of the ComForCare brand.

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