“This place is open. People can enjoy the seasons. They can really feel if it’s cold or warm. They can visit a restaurant. They can drink a cup of tea. And they are free to go wherever they want to go.” —Theo, whose wife has advanced dementia
Being able to enjoy the seasons and take a walk to the post office when you feel like it may not sound so special — unless you know the world of dementia care. In traditional nursing homes, residents don’t do much but sit.
That’s why the Dutch village De Hogeweyk, a grand experiment known here as Dementia Village, has sparked so much attention worldwide. CNN’s medical reporter Dr. Sanjay Gupta spent four days there getting a feel for the village, speaking with its residents and learning about this eldercare model from its co-founder Yvonne van Amerongen, who was inspired to envision an alternative to traditional care when her father died suddenly and she found herself thinking, “Thank God he never had to spend time in a nursing home.”
Van Amerongen was working in a nursing home at the time.
Located in the Netherlands on the outskirts of Amsterdam, De Hogeweyk has 23 houses and 152 residents who are free to come and go within its confines, visiting their supermarket and the hairdresser, playing music, seeing theater, taking walks. The residents live together in settings that reflect their former lifestyles—traditional or modern, luxury or crafty. The staff wear street clothes instead of uniforms. It’s a little like a toy village, and some experts say it’s unethical because it fools people with severe dementia into thinking that they’re living in the real world. Van Amerongen is unfazed. She says this is the real world, one that feels safe even when you are lost. She wants people who live here to feel that it’s OK to be lost.
Could this model change the face of Alzheimer’s in America?