The number one fear of old age is without a doubt receiving the diagnosis of Alzheimer's dementia. According to Dementia statistics, in 2010 approximately 35.6 million people had dementia; in 2030 it is expected to almost double to 65.7 million. What can be done to ensure that our parents, loved ones and yes, we ourselves, can enjoy life as fully as possible while living out our Golden Years?
Let me introduce to you Hogewey, an amazing "village" on the outskirts of Amsterdam. It's a step back into the 1950s boasting pretty, manicured streets, a grocery, cafe, coffee shop, restaurant and even a beauty salon and barber shop. There are 152 residents in Hogewey, and all have something in common—dementia. You see, Hogewey is not a real village; it is a treatment facility for dementia and Alzheimer's patients.
Those who are lucky enough to live there, do so in a time gone by, a time when many were in their prime. It is set in the 1950s because the dementia patient's long term memory is preserved much more vividly than short term. Thus they can relate to things from their younger days, which gives a feeling of familiarity, safety and comfort.
Dementia waxes and wanes; with times of clarity interspersed with periods of confusion and memory loss. It's during those moments of clarity that Hogewey becomes priceless. Instead of a nursing home, with cold steel, linoleum floors, the smell of antiseptic and staff members wearing white, they live in a neighborhood. Patients come and go as they please, because the village, which takes up a city block, is staffed by "villagers" who are really trained geriatric nurses and specialists, all there to help the residents when needed. Patients are free to take a buggy and walk to the supermarket, go grab a coffee or get a meal in the cafe. If they forget their wallet, no problem. If they get lost, there's always a "villager" to help them get home, and if they load up with 20 cans of tomato sauce, an aide will return the extras to the grocery later that day.
Hogewey officials say that after a few weeks, residents improve dramatically, require less medication and become calmer. Naturally, they have a very long waiting list, and relatives of the inhabitants praise Hogewey and offer their sincerest gratitude.
This is a groundbreaking approach to treating dementia and Alzheimer's. In fact, Germany sent a delegation to study the Dutch village, and has already announced it is planning on building its first village in Bern. One is also being built in Switzerland and hopefully the U.S. won’t be far behind. The cost is comparable to a standard nursing home facility, yet the rewards are priceless.
Locking the elderly in a cold, hospital setting, with specific visiting hours and time for meds and meals scheduled in advance is, thankfully, going to be a thing of the past. The elderly deserve nothing less than our respect and compassion, and this type of setting will ensure they experience their last years in a ‘normal,’ happy setting.
We all hope that our loved ones will never have to be removed from their home and independence for their own protection due to the ravages of dementia. But if they do, I certainly hope this is an option for all of us to consider.