“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?
Unethical because it fools people with dementia into thinking they are living in the real world – are you kidding? When was the last time you spend a lot of time in a nursing home or around someone with dementia? My Father suffered from dementia for over 6 years with my Mother and the family helping to care for him. Trust me, it wasn’t a life for either Mom or Dad. I spend a lot of time visiting folks in nursing homes and, unfortunately, the U.S. just has to figure out a better way to care for the elderly and infirm. This European idea of a “Dementia Village” is super. Why shouldn’t someone with dementia feel as though they can function in a close to normal environment? That’s more humane than our nursing home mentality. I realize this isn’t the panacea for all but it is a fresh look at how we might change the process of aging in America. Getting old isn’t a crime and therefore we shouldn’t relegate those who are old and infirm to a life undaunted boredom and fatigue, such as one finds in most nursing home environments. That’s unethical; that’s cruel and what worse, many wouldn’t think of subjecting an animal to that environment but, for an elderly person – it appears to be okay in America.