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A Beautiful Look at the Future of Eldercare
What would have to happen to make eldercare feel like the system we want for our own parents, or even ourselves one day? The village of Hogeweyk offers a completely new reality. Here’s what’s possible if we rethink everything about how we live in our later years!
The small village of Hogeweyk is like any town you may come across, complete with a grocery store, park, a restaurant, and even a bar. Its residents stroll the grounds freely, stopping to chat with each other about life, grabbing a bite to eat, or meeting one another for a drink. There’s really only one big difference between this town and one you may be familiar with: everyone here has dementia.
On this edition of Saturdays Around the World we’re traveling to Hogeweyk, located right outside of Amsterdam in the Netherlands to explore a place that’s way more than just a nursing home. With a focus on freedom, meaning, and social lives, this town is rewriting the possibilities of eldercare by helping its residents feel closer to home!
Stop confusing the confused brain
According to the World Health Organization, around 50 million people have dementia worldwide, with nearly 10 million new cases reported every year. 1 But the impact goes further than just those who suffer from it. The multitude of loved ones and caregivers are also at the mercy of watching this debilitating syndrome alter the person they care for.
In its wake, dementia leaves everyone around it confused on how to move forward.
While there still isn’t a cure for this heartbreaking syndrome, if we rethink how we approach the care we offer, we can make a world of difference! In fact, after learning about this town, the future of dementia care seems like an obvious course.
Dementia, at its simplest definition, confuses the brain—affecting memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language, and judgment. 2
And when typical nursing homes are giving off sterile, hospital-like vibes, those experiencing dementia are just left confused as to why they’re living there.
“What we saw everyday was that the people who lived in our nursing home were confused about their environment. Because what they saw was a hospital like environment; with doctors, and nurses, and paramedics in uniform. And they lived on a ward. And they didn’t understand why they lived there, and they looked for the place to get away. They looked and hoped to find the door to go home again.” — Yvonne van Amerongen, project leader and an original founder of Hogeweyk
It’s a sobering account, isn’t it? Often, it’s this very confusion that leads to extreme anxiety, aggression, and depression in the person. So, if they’re experiencing confusion, shouldn’t the response be to alleviate it? Well, that’s what Yvonne van Amerongen thought.
While working in one of those typical nursing homes, Yvonne and her colleagues realized that the current environment wasn’t somewhere they wanted their own parents to go. So, they created that place!
They focused on what makes a life, a life: the social groups we’re a part of, our interests, our freedom. Essentially, everything that has given us meaning throughout our lives.
The result is a town where the residents are encouraged to roam freely; to stop by the grocery store, to sit at the bar with friends, have their hair done, or take a stroll through the park. Where each of the 23 houses is home to a small group of individuals matched together by interest, increasing the likelihood of forming meaningful friendships. And where life is still life: dishes are done, you can smell the food cooking on the stove, and the laundry gets folded.
Completed in 2009, Hogeweyk care village has entirely changed the possibilities of how a nursing home can (and maybe should) function.
Hogeweyk is a part of a larger non-profit organization called Vivium, which is spreading the initiative to support all elderly individuals in living their best lives “with and despite their limitations due to dementia” with their care concept, Be. You can learn more about each by clicking on the links attached to their names above. I’m sure (and hope) that we’ll be seeing more and more models based on this concept throughout the world in the years to come!