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Dementia “Villages” Offer Unique Alternative for Alzheimer’s Patients

If it’s on Facebook, it has to be true, right? A few days ago I was swiping through my feed and a video caught my attention. It was suggesting Americans should help those with dementia the same way as the Netherlands and other countries are beginning to do. My curiosity was peaked and I clicked on the video to watch seniors walking outside along a street, shopping in a grocery store and comfortably sitting in what appears to be their own living room. These seniors had Alzheimer’s Disease and were all residents in a government-subsidized “dementia village” called Hogeway Village in the Netherlands. The video was a clip from a documentary exploring how the design of a care facility impacts resident quality of life. The documentary trailer, called Dementia Care by Design by Nicole Gaudet is available online and is truly worth a watch.

What makes this village different is that it’s an entire small-scale residential community built to help individuals with dementia lead active and independent lives based on familiar living environments. Residents are able to wander freely inside and out without the safety concerns if they were living in their own home. The grocery store, theater, pub and restaurant require no money. Residents are encouraged to make trips to the grocery store to choose items for their own meals and snacks. They can choose their own activities to do with more flexibility throughout the day.

Just as any nursing home has well-trained staff, the same is true at dementia villages. However, staff are usually referred to as “villagers” and wear street clothes (no uniforms) as they work in the community. They provide help with bathing, dressing and assisting residents with limited mobility walk throughout the village. Many times the “villagers” who have extensive dementia training can help redirect residents if they become lost or confused.

As will almost all good things, there is always a downside. The cost to create such an elaborate community from the ground up is not cheap. It is just as expensive to find the right staff, invest in their training and pay them what they are worth. The model in Netherlands and several others in the works received large government subsidies. And even with the subsidies, the care is not free to residents who pay thousands of dollars each month to live in the village.

We are lucky that in our local area some of the long-term nursing facilities have worked hard to create a welcoming environment for their dementia residents. Some have cafes, restaurants and gift shops in their buildings. They are working towards this trend to offer a more social model that enhances choice and autonomy which leads to fewer unmanageable behaviors and less medicated residents. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s and dementia are not disappearing any time soon as our senior population continues to skyrocket. Will we see dementia villages in the United States and here in Pennsylvania? Hopefully, the answer is yes and sooner rather than later.

If you need help understanding the resources available for your loved one with dementia, please feel free to reach out to the PA Link to Aging and Disability Resource Center for a listing of services available in your community. Please call our toll-free Call Center at 1-800-753-8827 or email me at

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