Intergenerational Model for Dementia Care Taking Shape Around Bill Thomas’ Minka Homes

One group in western Pennsylvania believes a possible solution to treating people with dementia is through building an intergenerational community, and is working with senior care innovator Dr. Bill Thomas to create such a community with 3-D printed tiny homes.

The Clearfield County Area Agency on Aging (CCAAA) will soon break ground on Village of Hope, an ambitious project to transform 23 acres of woods and a former elementary school into a dementia-friendly series of neighborhoods for people of all ages and abilities.

Thomas’ company, Minka, will build 3D printed tiny homes on the site, and apply Thomas’ MAGIC (multi-ability/multi-generational inclusive communities) concept throughout. Thomas worked on MAGIC in a one-year pilot program at the University of Southern Indiana, which has been extended for another year.

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If the Village of Hope is successful, it may establish a new blueprint in how caregivers and operators approach dementia treatment, CCAAA CEO Kathy Gillespie told Senior Housing News.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Gillespie said. “That is true in this case.”

Minka Village of Hope Courtesy of Clearfield County Area Agency on Aging, and Minka
A rendering of the site plan for the Village of Hope in Clearfield, Pennsylvania

A lack of resources

Clearfield County is the ideal test market for the MAGIC concept, Gillespie said. The population in Pennsylvania diagnosed with some form of dementia is upwards of 400,000 people. In Clearfield County, specifically, 17% of the population is age 65 or older, and a large percentage of those have cognitive impairment. There are a number of high-rise buildings in the area for seniors. Outside of institutional living, there are virtually no memory support programs available to seniors with dementia.

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Furthermore, there are seniors in the area who, by choice, had children later in life who are now teenagers. If these people want to downsize into senior housing, they cannot have dependent children with them.

Clearfield represents a lot of middle America, Minka COO Kavan Peterson told SHN.

“There are shifts in the aging population,” Peterson said. “More older people are staying and younger people leaving, and there is an increase in people living with cognitive change.”

An estimated 5.7 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, according to a 2018 report by the Alzheimer’s Foundation. By 2050, more than 13.8 million people over age 65 are expected to have some form of cognitive disease, and moving into assisted living or memory care can affect the behavior of people suffering with dementia.

Building a new community

By having multiple generations living together, Gillespie believes neighbors can become attuned to the behaviors of those suffering from dementia and be able to provide support without agitating them. The Village of Hope is an opportunity to create a community where neighbors help neighbors and mitigate institutionalization, due to a lack of direct care resources.

“In my experience, people suffering from dementia can be the easiest or hardest people to care for, based on tools to provide the care,” she said. “Those tools are education about how to provide care and approach the person and engage in conversation.”

The MAGIC housing model is intended as a pushback to the existing care model for dementia, where the behavior of people with cognitive issues are treated as symptoms of the disease, and buildings are designed to contain and control those behaviors, Peterson said. Minka theorizes that these behaviors are not symptoms of a disease; rather, they are symptoms of how people with dementia are being treated by the system.

“These are people who may lack communication skills but are expressing human needs, not expressing symptoms of the disease,” Peterson said. “If we can design communities to meet needs and not control symptoms, we can see better outcomes.”

Minka homes Courtesy of myminka.com
A Minka tiny home

Smart tiny homes and a repurposed school

Construction on the first phase of Village of Hope will soon be underway and consist of 20 individual homes built by Minka, with a goal of eventually building 60 homes. Using a 3D-printed model, Minka homes are built through modular construction, enabled with technologies to help seniors and others who need support to live independently. Gillespie envisions the homes will activate with smart technology as a resident’s condition worsens, in order to support them.

“The home itself can be a risk. It’s something I’ve seen first hand,” Peterson said. “We want to leverage technology to make people safe in their homes.”

The manufacturing price point of a Minka home allows CCAAA to serve affordable housing residents. A single Minka home costs around $60,000 to build. Gillespie said rents will be based off 30% of an resident’s income.

CCAAA and Minka are finalizing a master plan for the community, which will see the school adapted into a mixed-use arts engagement center.

CCAAA is researching how art therapy can have a positive impact on people with dementia. Research has shown that as people age, their minds become more mature and creative.

“We’re looking at having art as an integral part of the community,” Gillespie said.

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