[This is a summary of an article appearing in The Guardian newspaper on August 27, 2012. To read the complete article, go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/aug/27/dementia-village-residents-have-fun]
In the unassuming small Dutch town of Weesp, half an hour southeast of Amsterdam, you’ll find Hogewey, a pioneering institution that has developed an innovative, humane and apparently affordable way of caring for people with dementia. This is a compact, self-contained model village on a four-acre site on the outskirts of town, with wide boulevards, cozy side-streets, squares, sheltered courtyards, well-tended gardens with ponds, reeds and a profusion of wild flowers. The rest is neat, two-storey, brick-built houses, as well as a cafe, restaurant, theatre, mini-market and hairdressing salon.
Hogewey’s 152 residents, all classified by the Dutch NHS as suffering from severe or extreme dementia, are cared for by 250-odd full- and part-time staff (most of them qualified healthcare workers, the rest given special training), plus local volunteers. They live, six or seven to a house, plus one or two carergivers, in 23 different homes. Residents have their own spacious bedroom, but share the kitchen, lounge and dining room.
Two core principles governed Hogewey’s award-winning design and inform the care that’s given here. First, it aims to relieve the anxiety, confusion and often considerable anger that people with dementia can feel by providing an environment that is safe, familiar and human; an almost-normal home where people are surrounded by things they recognize and by other people with backgrounds, interests and values similar to their own. Second, maximizing the quality of people’s lives by keeping everyone active and focusing on everything they can still do, rather than everything they can’t.
So Hogewey has 25 clubs, from folksong to baking, literature to bingo, painting to cycling. It also encourages residents to keep up the day-to-day tasks they have always done: gardening, shopping, peeling potatoes, shelling the peas, doing the washing, folding the laundry, going to the hairdresser, popping to the cafe.
The homes belong to seven different “lifestyle categories”: not periods frozen in time, such as the 50s or 60s, but more moods evoked through choice of furnishing, decoration, music, even food. Outside in the sunshine, residents sit at garden tables in front of their houses eating ice cream. Washing hangs on a line. No doors – apart from the main entrance, with its hotel-like reception area – are locked in Hogewey; there are no cars or buses to worry about (just the occasional, sometimes rather erratically-ridden, bicycle) and residents are free to wander where they choose and visit whom they please. There’s always someone to lead them home if needed.