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World’s first Dementia Village

World’s first Dementia Village

Imagine for a moment that you have been diagnosed with early-stage dementia and have the opportunity to decide how you will be cared for?

Will you choose to remain in your home, relying on family and friends for full time care? or will you decide to spend your days in an aged care home facility, under the watchful eye of nurses and doctors?

Its not an easy choice to make, and sometimes it may not be your choice at all – depending on how well-equipped your loved ones are to take on your care.

But what if there was an alternative, one that allowed you to maintain a sense of normality or freedom whilst still being given the best care possible and relinquishing your loved ones from the burden of taking care of you?

The world’s first dementia village acheives just that.

Situated in the Dutch municipality of Wessp, not far from bustling Amsterdam, sits the village of Hogewey.

From an outside perspective, at first glance,  it is a solid podium of apartments and buildings safely gated away from the outside world with gates and security fences.

But upon closer inspection it looks like any other village. A self-contained world, Hogewey features restaurants, cafes, a supermarket, gardens, a pedestrian boulevard, hairdresser and even a post office as well as a lovely courtyard, rippling ponds, trickling fountains and seasonal landscaping as well as the perfect bench to enjoy on a sunny afternoon.

The village, completed in 2009, is home to 152 residents – never referred to as patients – living with severe dementia. It contains 23 residential units each shared by 6-8 people.

Each unit is customised with “lifestyle themes” such as crafts, culture, religious and urban. The goal is to provide a normal life – reminiscent of each individual’s formative years. Art lovers get paintings on their walls and music playing, Christians get crosses and conservative decor.

Remarkably, 240 “villagers” – trained geriatric nurses and caregivers dressed up in street clothes – attend to the residents every need. from cooking meals to planning activities, assisting them with bathing and other personal care to administering medications.

Even the individuals “staffing” the various village businesses are trained in dementia care to help residents go about their day without interruption.

Hogewey is secure, so residents are free to roam around and explore as much as they wish within its confines. they are encouraged to help with daily tasks such as cooking and shopping and should they get confused there is always a helpful “villager” on hand to provide assistance.

The village has been praised for its revolutionary approach to aged care for dementia sufferers. Residents have proved that the unorthodox approach also naturally decreases their agitation and aggression – which would often mean strong drugs and medication in a home.

More importantly, the dutch model helps residents remain active and gives them a sense of purpose – something that can be altogether absent from their days spent confined at home or in a nursing home.

As you can imagine, one of the greatest barriers to having dementia villages in every town or neighbourhood is the cost. Hogewey was slightly over $25 million, $22 million of which was funded by the Dutch government and residents pay approximately $7,000 monthly, with a perpetual waiting list.

While critics of the dementia village argue that residents are being misled, proponents of the alternative care method believe it is the most compassionate type of dementia care offered anywhere in the world.

It’s true that, even at Hogewey, the residents may not know where they are, but there is no denying they feel at home there – and that’s really the whole idea.

One of the village’s founders, Yvonne Van Amerongen dismisses any accusations that she and her staff are duping their residents. “We have a real society here. I don’t think people feel fooled. They feel fooled if we just tell them a story that’s not true and they know it. We’re not telling stories.”

Experts agree that the homelike setting offered at Hogewey allows residents to live out their days as normal as possible, eating dinner family style, visiting friends, stopping by the barbershop or hairdresser and going for a walk whenever they wish to do so.

Physically the residents of Hogewey require fewer medications, eat better, even live longer than their counterparts who are card fro in other aged care facilities. Mentally, though it is hard to measure, residents appear to have more of a spring in their step – and that may be the most important thing.


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