Shopping malls in the US have been struggling to remain open in recent years, and this has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. European countries have had success in converting vacant malls into mixed-use dementia villages, and one study investigated how to apply this concept in the US.
Researchers developed a case study based on an 8-million-square-foot mall that had closed in 2017 and design input from university and community members. Focus groups were then held with health-care professionals specializing in gerontology to discuss the case study.
A common concern was that such a project might be overly ambitious for the US at this point, given the need for securing funds for the project and cultural differences from European perspectives. This includes social forces as well, in the perception of converting what was once a vital hub of the surrounding community into a site restricted to use by a group of stigmatized older adults. However, the converted dementia care community would be in a central location, easily accessible by public transportation, and the square footage would give residents access to a large enclosed space.
To address the economic concerns, participants emphasized the importance of thinking outside the box to secure funding, and considering multiple service agencies to complement real estate investors in order to create a more holistic environment. A community of this size would need to be profitable, but nonprofit status would be important for keeping costs down, so as to be more inclusive of individuals from different economic backgrounds. Another way to address both the public perception and economic concerns might be to incorporate a medical clinic on-site to serve the surrounding community while also generating revenue.
Ultimately, the mixed-use nature of converted Dementia Villages would offer access to a variety of services, emotional support, and a health-promoting environment. It might still be too soon for this type of project to take place in the US. But with the increasing number of mall closures and rising number of older adults with cognitive impairments, it’s an opportunity that developers should at least consider.
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Roberts E, Kleszynski K, Shehadeh A, Carter HC. Thinking outside of the box: Medical provider perspectives on adaptive reuse of closed mall sites for mixed-use dementia programs and services. Journal of Aging and Environment (2021), 35(4), 385-405.