Repurposing vacancies for an aging population

A lot has been written in recent years – on this blog included – about the evolution in the commercial real estate market, particularly as a string of retail giants have shuttered their doors for failing to keep up with the e-changes in consumerism. At the same time, technological advancements have made millions of square feet of industrial space obsolete. The question has risen: Just what can be done with all of these vacancies?

For an answer, one only needs to look at the rapidly changing demands being placed on healthcare real estate. Some of the final product, as developers, researchers, and other parties come together, is not only good for the business of medicine, it benefits the common good – even providing hope for patients and their loved ones.

Healthcare real estate today

Once upon a time, healthcare real estate meant the construction of bed-filled towers but insurance costs and delivery of services have changed in recent years. In today’s marketplace, there is a greater focus to provide more localized services that focus on specific populations.

With this in mind, new medical office construction was the go-to solution. Such an effort can take 18 months or more, and in the world of healthcare, that is often entirely too long. For healthcare providers, one solution was hiding in plain sight: vacant storefronts in malls and strip malls. What was once a supermarket or retail store can be transformed into a state-of-the-art medical facility via a thorough remodel.

Meeting the needs of an aging population

When it comes to specific populations, the fastest growing one is people dealing with dementia or Alzheimer’s. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, so too is the number of diagnoses which in turn places a tremendous strain on the healthcare system.

A treatment that has shown great promise is reminiscence therapy, in which caregivers encourage patients to actively talk about past events and their own lives. When combined with prompts that stimulate memories, such as photographs and music, patients experience a marked improvement in mood, cognition, and communication.

Taking care to the next level

To further enhance the reminiscence therapy experience for patients, there is a global effort to develop safe spaces that encourage memories. From Amsterdam and Miami to San Diego, healthcare professionals, developers, and designers are entering partnerships to create villages and town squares that bring patients – most of whom are in their 70s and 80s – to the world that existed between the years 1950 – 1961. As this population passes, memory prompts can be updated to better reflect the experiences of a new group of patients.

While some of these projects are new construction, such as Miami Jewish Health Systems Health Village (set to open in 2020), other efforts are filling already existing warehouse spaces. The George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers partnered with the Senior Helpers and the San Diego Opera Scenic Studio to build a reminiscence therapy town square in a 9,000-square-foot warehouse. There, 14 storefronts and memory-stimulating activity stations greet patients.

The group is expanding to other markets, with another town square in Maryland and its first franchise in Chicago. The organization is now moving away from warehouses and toward spaces that are centrally located, such as empty box stores, shopping centers, and strip malls.

Why this matters to South Florida

South Florida, it seems, is an ideal location for these efforts. An aging population in which many are diagnosed with dementia and age-related cognitive impairment makes reminiscence therapy particularly valuable for local citizens – and there are available properties that can be transformed into villages and town squares.

For a free consultation with Morris Southeast Group or to learn more about our property investment opportunities and/or other services, call us at 954.474.1776. You can also reach Ken Morris directly at 954.240.4400 or via email at