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Netherlands Town Builds a Village for People Suffering From Dementia

Posted by ComForCare on March 7, 2014 at 1:07 PM

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in every three seniors today dies with dementia. Overall, Americans, and perhaps the world at large, are not prepared for the increase in our aging population, and the proportional increase in seniors suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The cost of caring for sufferers is expected to rise to $1.2 trillion by the year 2050.

The small town of Weesp in the Netherlands may be the only place in the world that is actually preparing for the issue of rising dementia levels in the elderly. They have established a dementia-focused living center called De Hogeweyk, also known as "Dementia Village," which is serving as a model for the rest of the world. It was designed by Dutch architects Molenaar & Bol & VanDillen and is the brainchild of Yvonne van Amerongen, a caregiver who has worked with memory patients for decades. Starting in the early 1990s, van Amerongen and a group of her colleagues began researching and designing a home specifically for dementia patients where they would be able to participate in life in the same way they did before they entered a dementia care unit.

Her work culminated in De Hogeweyk, which opened in 2009. De Hogeweyk is closed to the outside world, gated off and protected by security fences. From an outsider’s perspective it can look intimidating, even military. But on the inside, it’s a self-contained version of an idyllic village with restaurants, cafes, a supermarket, gardens, a pedestrian boulevard, apartments and more. According to the designers, the idea was to create the environment of a normal village that is as safe as possible for residents suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s.

What Makes Dementia Village Unique

Each apartment hosts six to eight people, including caregivers who wear street clothes instead of uniforms to maintain the image of a normal town. Residents help with everyday tasks including cooking and cleaning, can buy whatever they want from the grocery, get their hair done, or go to a restaurant. According to the center’s administrators, it’s those basic routines and rituals that help residents maintain a better quality of life.

Because people with dementia often struggle with unfamiliar spaces – which can be affected even by color and decor – the apartments at De Hogeweyk are designed around familiar cultural touchstones, categorized into six basic “genres” of design: upper class (which looks old-fashioned), homey, Christian, artisan, Indonesian (one of the Netherlands’ biggest immigrant populations) and cultural. Each apartment is different and designed for a particular lifestyle all the way down to the silverware and furniture, thus creating an uninterrupted connection to a person’s life pre-dementia.

What De Hogeweyk reveals, beyond a potential solution or tool to help dementia patients, is the stigma imposed on those suffering from dementia. By treating their residents as normal people, De Hogeweyk suggests that there isn’t an ingrained difference between people who do and do not suffer from dementia; just a different set of needs that must be addressed. By designing a village tailored to those needs, residents can avoid the dehumanization that long-term medical care can unintentionally cause.

Next Steps

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Topics: Aging, Caregiving, Alzheimer's and Dementia

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