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Media 04 Oct 2017

Article in The Vancouver Sun

Aging specialists hope to learn from Dutch 'dementia village' story

In most provinces, pediatricians who treat children outnumber by a wide margin the geriatricians who specialize in treating elderly people.

In B.C., there is a Ministry of Children and Family Development, but nothing comparable for seniors — even though seniors now outnumber children. Plus, there is a hospital dedicated to children in Metro Vancouver. But not one for the elderly.

“How come?” asks Dan Levitt, an adjunct professor in gerontology at Simon Fraser University. “Seniors are put in nursing homes while a child with a similar condition stays at home and often has full-time aids in school. Our society has to change and embrace aging.”

In an effort to raise awareness, Levitt is part of a group sponsoring a workshop featuring Eloy van Hal, one of the Dutch founders of De Hogeweyk, also known as “Dementia Village.” It has been described as one of the world’s most innovative developments in the care for people with dementia.

Van Hal is speaking Thursday at the Fairmont Vancouver Hotel.

Within 20 years, it is estimated that one-quarter of B.C.’s population will be 65 years of age or older.

Levitt, who is also an adjunct professor in nursing at the University of B.C., singled out “ageism” as an underlying reason behind the lack of resources for the elderly.

“We have gerontophobia,” he said. “We’re afraid of becoming that group of people who are discriminated against. Why are seniors not getting the resources? Part of this conversation is to move the needle every so slightly on public opinion on the importance of seniors.”

Levitt said he wasn’t aware of any plans for a B.C. version of Dementia Village.

“There are projects going up that aren’t necessarily carbon copies, but are using the same principles,” he said.

De Hogeweyk is located in Weesp near Amsterdam. It is a complete village with 1.5 hectares of streets, squares and gardens, as well as a theatre, café and grocery store where 152 people live in 23 houses. All venues are staffed with specially trained employees.

The buildings form a border so residents can wander without anyone worrying about their safety. This is particularly important for some people with dementia who experience “sundowning”: wandering at the end of the day when the sun sets.

“People wander away from nursing homes because they’re bored and lonely and helpless and want something outside,” Levitt said. “In Dementia Village, everything you want is there.”

For the past two years, van Hal has worked as a consultant to Vivium Care Group, which includes Dementia Village.

Van Hal, who spoke two years ago in Richmond, is expected to expand on the story of how De Hogeweyk was built. He will talk about specifics such as adapting building codes and working with government regulators who often err on the side of safety rather than in favour of enhancing the quality of life, Levitt said.

The idea of building a nursing home as a standalone building next to a hospital is increasingly rare around the world, Levitt said. Those older models are being replaced with centres that create a sense of community for residents.

Why shouldn’t a residential care centre include a library and pool that everyone can use, Levitt said. Or a daycare?

“If you look at different global models in Australia, France, Switzerland, and Germany, many countries are no longer building standalone hospital-style nursing homes,” said Levitt, executive director of Tabor Village in Abbotsford.

“They just don’t exist anymore.”

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