Our institutions of care are based on ideas developed during the industrial revolution when we found that factories and assembly lines worked so well for making things on a large scale. These ideas work well in fields of medicine that involve technology, such as surgery. However, for diseases of the mind – whether we are referring to mental illness or physical degradation of the brain that causes dementia – a medical care factory model doesn’t work quite so well.
But we keep trying to make it work because we so value efficiency, replication, and cost reduction. This is why – with the aging of the Baby Boomers – we see the opening of larger and larger assisted living facilities that sometimes cover complete city blocks!
Why do we do this? In part because we have so poorly researched or trained our professionals in the importance of a “dementia friendly” or “dementia inclusive” environment, and in part because we are designing our facility to dazzle the families who make the very expensive decisions about where to place their loved ones. Too often, our care communities are designed to facilitate their marketers, not their providers of care.
Elsewhere in the world, we see dementia practitioners developing a very different model that seeks to replicate their residents’ pre-dementia lives. A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the prototype facility of this concept named Hogeweyk. in the Netherlands, known worldwide as the “Dementia Village.”
Modeled after a Dutch village, Hogeweyk is open, welcoming, and provided the best dementia care I have seen anywhere. Its success derives from the application of a well-researched and evidence-based understanding of how people with dementia are affected by their environment.
Hogeweyk opened in 2009, so we are embarking on a quarter-century of experience with this revolutionary concept. In fact, its original founders have moved on to create an international consulting company to help others adapt the concept to various cultures around the world.
There is now in southern France an “Alzheimer’s village” called Landes. Embedded in this operation is a “research institute” that explores and documents current and new techniques of person-centered compassionate care. We hear so much about research for an Alzheimer’s “cure,” but this is research for better Alzheimer’s “care,” and I find this idea enormously exciting!
In Denmark, there is the Svendborg Dementia Village, a town of 125 homes populated by citizens diagnosed with dementia. Opened in 2016, it consists of a city square surrounded by shops that include a restaurant, a hairdresser, a theater, a music library, and an exercise center.
Canada has The Village Langley, located not far from Vancouver, that opened in 2019. It serves 76 residents with the stated mission to change the paradigm for dementia care by becoming the first of many of its type.
In Tasmania, we have Korongee Dementia Village that includes a general store, a café, a hair salon, medical facilities, and gentle sloping paths (but no stairs) that provides homes for 96 people living with dementia.
In Italy, in both Rome and Monza, there are similar dementia villages.
Common to all of these ventures is the understanding that environment and familiarity are paramount in providing good and effective dementia care. They defy the belief that ever-larger “care factories” should be the solution for a growing population of citizens living with dementia. They focus on quality, not quantity, though some serve populations larger than conventional single-building memory care facilities.
I would so like to see a similar experiment here in Citrus County where we can improve even more on this model by placing it in the lush and beautiful environment of our Nature Coast. Just picture it! It could happen, and it should happen because we all deserve the best.
They too realize that we all deserve the best!
Thank you all for your continued support.
Until next time remember: “We all deserve the Best”
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