Near Amsterdam, the village of Hogeweyk is dedicated to the elderly, but without the white coats: seniors with Alzheimer’s disease live almost independent lives. It was pioneering in 2009 and has inspired similar initiatives in Denmark, France and Switzerland.
In Weesp, a small village twenty kilometres or so from Amsterdam, 150 seniors with advanced dementia stroll freely in the alleyways of De Hogeweyk, a small, friendly village with green patios and flowery terraces. This small village is like any other residential neighbourhood with supermarkets, hairdressers, theatres, restaurants. There is a slight difference however: this place, where patients, families and health professionals live and interact, is under day and night-time supervision by staff who are trained in handling senile conditions.
Funded almost exclusively by the Dutch state (17.5 million euros for an overall budget of 20 million), the De Hogeweyk model ‘allows for total freedom while discretely ensuring resident safety’. Here, all services are freely available to residents. They enjoy more physical activity, fresh air and social interaction (cafes and theatres are open to the public). And the hairdressers, cashiers and 250 other employees, volunteers and carers have been trained to take care of people with dementia, but without the depressing hospital attire. As a result, Hogeweyk founders have noticed an 80% decrease in patients’ neuroleptic treatment since 1993.
Just like home
Forgetfulness, isolation, loss of cognitive abilities… These are just a few symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Research is progressing, slowly, but the illness still takes a heavy toll. And, often, specialised assistance brings only limited results. This is why the Dutch authorities wanted a place where patients feel ‘just like at home’.
The accommodation is available in different styles: urban, cultural, bourgeois…Everyone can choose depending on their lifestyle. In addition to providing patients with an opportunity to take part in household activities (shopping, cooking, cleaning), Hogeweyk also has appropriate urban facilities: lifts with sensors mean there is no need to remember what floor is needed and music is widely used to stimulate residents. But above all, the goal is to create a family lifestyle.
There are only four other experiments of this kind in Europe. The ‘Alzheimer Village’ in Dax, in south-west France and three others in Germany, Switzerland and Norway. However, the Danish foundation OK Fonden also has a similar project called ‘Byen for Livet’ (Town of life), that should soon open in Odense, in the south of Denmark. Objective: to create a housing complex accommodating 350 Alzheimer patients providing care even before the illness makes them dependant.