As Canada’s population ages the question of how we care for our elders, particularly those suffering from dementia, becomes more pressing.
One man thinks he has the answer. Eloy van Hal is the mind behind Hogeweyk, the world’s first ‘dementia village.’
Lynda Steele spoke with van Hal about the idea, and how it could revolutionize the way we treat people with dementia.
A new perspective
Hogeweyk is a small community about 20 km from Amsterdam. All of its 152 residents suffer from dementia – but rather than being housed in an institution, they live in houses in groups of five or six with a care aid. Residents are free to come and go from their homes as they please.
van Hal says it’s about re-imagining what dementia care should be.
“We think it’s really important to still have a normal life. Often you see people with severe dementia in a severe nursing home or often a ward. And we thought that’s not normal. So lets focus more on living and well being and a little less on care.”
van Hal says that’s about creating a space where they can safely lead a life with some independence.
The result is a community with streets, a supermarket, even a theater – and employees trained to understand seniors with dementia.
“It’s a safe little neighbourhood. So there’s one guarded door of the neighbourhood, but there’s a lot of outdoor space so you can just leave your house through the front door and walk and wander around. Meet other people. Because social contacts are also important.”
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van Hal says when residents aren’t treated like patients they are less stressed and less confused.
He says residents are involved in normal day-to-day activities, like helping with laundry or cooking, which makes them feel at home.
And van Hal says they are able to do it on the same budget as a traditional nursing home. He says the difference is in the way institutions choose to spend the money. He says when people with dementia aren’t locked up, they are less aggressive and less likely to act out.
“We spend a little more on well being, a little less on care. But we need less care money because people feel at home. So we have less behaviour challenges, for example.”
For the time being, no one has replicated the dementia village model in North America. But van Hal says there is plenty of interest, with institutions borrowing ideas from the model.
He’s in Vancouver tonight to spread his message.