Here in North America, the standard protocol for dealing with dementia is to place the person in an assisted living facility. An assisted living facility typically looks like a large apartment complex with a front desk staff, 24-7 nurse care, a cafeteria, a game room, library, and other amenities for patients. Assisted living facilities are ideal for people suffering from dementia because they can provide the round-the-clock care necessary to keep dementia sufferers safe and cared for.
But what if there’s a better way?
In Europe and a few other spots around the world, efforts are being made to improve the quality of life of dementia sufferers. This is where “dementia villages” are meant to come in. A dementia village is like an assisted living facility except that it’s designed to recreate normal life—outside of a medical facility. It has the same care and safety features of an assisted living facility but in a more comfortable environment. Two of the most prominent dementia villages are De Hogeweyk in the Netherlands and Village Landais Alzheimer in France. Dementia village designers use a few key principles to accomplish this:
First, dementia villages introduce artifacts from a time period when dementia sufferers were young. When you have dementia, older memories are often very crisp though you can’t remember what you ate for lunch. For example, this could mean retro decor, entertainment from a bygone era, etc. These little things can bring a lot of joy and comfort to dementia sufferers.
2. Everyday things
Within a typical dementia village is a small store where residents can go shopping for all their needs, a barber shop, and a movie theater, among other amenities. The amenities are staffed by people who are trained to deal with dementia patients. Each of these amenities is designed to replicate its real-world counterpart in the outside world as closely as possible, providing dementia patients with a measure of normality. This can be very comforting to dementia sufferers.
3. Outdoor space
Because dementia patients are prone to wander off and get lost, dementia villages are designed with outdoor space on the interior. The apartment buildings the residents live in form a wall around the outdoor space to keep everyone safely contained. This is perhaps one of the biggest costs of the dementia village layout and the reason why it hasn’t been more widely implemented, but what a payoff! Many people suffering with dementia would much rather be out of doors, sitting down at a cafe table watching birds splash around in a pond than stuck indoors watching the Lawrence Welk Show for the millionth time.
If you were diagnosed with dementia, how would you like to live out your final years? Within the confines of an assisted living facility, or out in nature watching birds splash in the fountain? What could a large serving of normalcy do for your soul? Although there is not a lot of definitive research on dementia villages showing if they are successful, it’s easy to see why many people would think they ought to be better. The more comfortable, familiar environment of a dementia village likely helps its residents live a much more fulfilling life.