Experimental “dementia villages” turn back the clock to help seniors

Just imagine how terrifying it would be to find yourself lost in your own home, or to have everyone around you keep insisting that a person you don’t recognize is your own child. That’s what life can be like with dementia. It’s scary—and not only that, it can also be dangerous. A person with a severe case might wander away from their home, leave the stove on and cause a fire, or accidentally take too much of a prescribed medication.

For those reasons, the safest place for a person with severe dementia is often in a nursing home, a hospital-like facility where doctors, nurses, and other staff members can deliver around-the-clock care. In recent years, though, a new care format has cropped up across the globe: the dementia village.

In 2009, the world’s first dementia village, Hogeweyk, opened in the Netherlands. There, 250 staff members provide residents with severe dementia the same level of care they would receive in a traditional facility — but the entire place is designed to look and function like an old, cozy neighborhood, not a typical nursing home. For seniors with dementia, it looks more like a world they knew growing up.

Oftentimes, people with dementia have no problem remembering people and places from the more-distant past. And studies have shown that thinking and discussing about older memories, something known as reminiscence therapy, can improve cognition, improve self-esteem, and alleviate depression. By creating a world reminiscent of the one dementia patients remember, dementia villages hope to bring similar benefits.

At Hogeweyk, groups of up to seven residents live in each of the village’s 27 houses. They are under constant surveillance, but are free to make their own schedules and leave their homes whenever they like. They can take a stroll through the village’s gardens or visit its grocery store, post office, or pub — all of which are staffed by caretakers in plain clothes. The only place residents can’t go is through the one locked door that would lead them outside the village.

The model is regularly compared to “The Truman Show,” the 1998 film in which the titular character lives his whole life in a meticulously crafted community populated only by actors who don’t let him leave. But unlike the creator of Truman’s “Seahaven Island,” the people behind Hogeweyk and other dementia villages aren’t trying to exploit or deceive residents — they’re trying to help them.

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Experimental “dementia villages” turn back the clock to help seniors

Just imagine how terrifying it would be to find yourself lost in your own home, or to have everyone around you keep insisting that a person you don’t recognize is your own child. That’s what life can be like with dementia. It’s scary—and not only that, it can also be dangerous. A person with a severe case might wander away from their home, leave the stove on and cause a fire, or accidentally take too much of a prescribed medication.

For those reasons, the safest place for a person with severe dementia is often in a nursing home, a hospital-like facility where doctors, nurses, and other staff members can deliver around-the-clock care. In recent years, though, a new care format has cropped up across the globe: the dementia village.

In 2009, the world’s first dementia village, Hogeweyk, opened in the Netherlands. There, 250 staff members provide residents with severe dementia the same level of care they would receive in a traditional facility — but the entire place is designed to look and function like an old, cozy neighborhood, not a typical nursing home. For seniors with dementia, it looks more like a world they knew growing up.

Oftentimes, people with dementia have no problem remembering people and places from the more-distant past. And studies have shown that thinking and discussing about older memories, something known as reminiscence therapy, can improve cognition, improve self-esteem, and alleviate depression. By creating a world reminiscent of the one dementia patients remember, dementia villages hope to bring similar benefits.

At Hogeweyk, groups of up to seven residents live in each of the village’s 27 houses. They are under constant surveillance, but are free to make their own schedules and leave their homes whenever they like. They can take a stroll through the village’s gardens or visit its grocery store, post office, or pub — all of which are staffed by caretakers in plain clothes. The only place residents can’t go is through the one locked door that would lead them outside the village.

The model is regularly compared to “The Truman Show,” the 1998 film in which the titular character lives his whole life in a meticulously crafted community populated only by actors who don’t let him leave. But unlike the creator of Truman’s “Seahaven Island,” the people behind Hogeweyk and other dementia villages aren’t trying to exploit or deceive residents — they’re trying to help them.

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