Hogeweyk: A model for person-centered compassionate care

November is National Alzheimer’s Month. This will be used by many organizations to supercharge their efforts to solicit donations for a cure. Well and good, but I would like to see an equal level of enthusiasm directed toward funding to support family care partners and organizations that promote person-centered compassionate care. For those already in the journey, a cure cannot come soon enough.

I have just returned from the Netherlands where I spent two priceless days of learning at Hogeweyk, otherwise known worldwide as the Dementia Village. It is, in my opinion, a world-class model of best practices in person-centered care. Since its founding some 20 years ago, this organization has continued to seek, find, and implement better practices of compassionate dementia care.

The goal of Hogeweyk is to provide a “normal” environment. Seniors classified with severe to end-of-life dementia live in “villages/homes,” not in little rooms in big buildings that look like hospitals, factories, or hotels. Hogeweyk simulates four different Dutch lifestyles, and residents are evaluated to live in the village that best duplicate the lifestyles in which they were raised and lived prior to dementia.

Because daily shopping for groceries is still a society-wide practice in the Netherlands, Hogeweyk has its own market where residents go each day to shop. There is a restaurant, but most residents eat in their own apartments which are carefully outfitted with the furniture, tableware, and decorations consistent with their “lifestyle.”
It is a gated community, but not locked down. Residents are free to go where they choose, but wandering outside rarely happens because they are comfortable and have what they need in the environment that has been created for them. Hogeweyk is studiously maintained to NOT look anything like a hospital or health facility. Care staff do not wear scrubs; rather they wear normal street clothes with no name tags.

“Normalcy” is so well maintained that people come in from the town to enjoy Hogeweyk’s restaurant, which helps supplement the community’s income. Sometimes, it is a bit difficult to tell residents from the visitors. And among the residents, I saw very few using wheel chairs. Most residents are mobile, spending their time outside, in social activities, or interacting with the people of the community.

My mind is still spinning from this experience, trying to process the things I saw that were so different from the kind of senior care we are used to. I expect I will be sharing more of my thoughts about Hogeweyk in future columns.

Could these techniques of person-centered compassionate care be implemented on a national scale through our system of institutional care? I don’t know, but I think we should be doing everything we can to find out. This is why we recently created in Citrus County a nonprofit organization with the stated vision to create an institute for researching, teaching, and promoting techniques of compassionate care, including nonpharmacological therapies.

It does work; I’ve seen it work. And I believe pursuit of the methods I’ve seen at Hogeweyk is the best way we can use the resources we have until someone comes up with that illusive cure.

Here is the link to the video of Sanjay Gupta’s visit to Hogeweyk.

Until next time remember: “We all deserve the Best”

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