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Why Can't Every Nation Have a Dignified 'Dementia Village' like the Netherlands?

My health systems & public policy class learned about this "village" that's much more than the typical nursing home, where many seniors die.

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CNN highlights the Netherlands' so-called "Dementia Village" where caretakers act as waitors in restaurants, grocery store check-out attendants, hair stylists, and much more in order to provide the elderly who are suffering from dementia a safe, dignified, calm and embracing community to live out their final years of life and to overcome the challenges of aging beyond their control.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Is it possible to replicate this type of environment to bring communal comfort to other individuals who are suffering from other terminal diseases toward the end of their life? Can we provide places for people to age and die that are much more than a senior dormitory with a deathbed? What other types of patients need and deserve these same communities of comfort, and how can we provide it?

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Photo of Irena Monticelli

I participated in the White House Conference on Aging and there is a Dementia friendly toolkit as an intuitive of a Dementia Friendly America. It is slowly being implemented. Also in MSW grad school, as a therapy I learned about  that can help with what the doctor was saying about sensory and body work with PTs. I have worked dementia and oncology as a social worker. Ten years ago I had Hodgkins (at 25) and was caretaker to my sister as she died of Lung cancer at 42 five years later. I have been on both sides and experienced the loss of self at 25 and had to make meaning of loss. My focus is mental health and Yes we can do this. Thanks -Irene

Photo of Lauren Brown

I love this story. The village is such a wonderful example of human-centered design!

In the clip, there was a mention of the importance of music. It reminded me of a documentary I recently saw called "Alive Inside" and there is a part in the movie that demonstrated how music can unlock certain portions of the brain related to memory/joy/etc. I know Oliver Sachs did quite a bit of work in this area as well. I'm including the clip below with a description of what it includes: "The clip begins with video of Dryer looking largely unresponsive to the outside world. Then he was given a pair of headphones to listen to Cab Calloway, his favorite artist. The music energizes him, awakens him and helps bring back old memories. We play clips from the film and speak with Cohen about his project, "Music & Memory," which he hopes to expand around the world."  

Photo of Garrett Eng

Hi Lauren, yes! This is also captured in HBO's Alzheimer's Project, and it also made me think of  a poetry project documented by PBS Newshour, which looked at how engaging dementia patients with poetry can help relish the present. 

Photo of Shoba Raja

Inspiring and seems almost ideal. Understanding/nailing down how cultural adaptations of the concept could work and of course the all important aspect of costs are key to taking this outside the Netherlands/European contexts. But key idea - of nurturing normalcy - fantastic.

Photo of Paddy Padmanabhan

Great model

Photo of C. Elizabeth Dougherty

Brilliant and innovative example of creating a Compassionate Community!

Photo of Manuela Gsponer

Dear Maryalice, I really like this idea. I visited some retirement homes. Even though staff and management tries to provide a nice environment, it nevertheless feels like a kind of hospital. Staff members have a lot of formal administrative routines, medication plans to stick to and "standard" care to do. It's not like living in a community or living at home. I think it's worth thinking about how to make retirement homes more homelike. Thanks for sharing your input.

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Congrats on this being today's Featured Contribution!

Photo of Emily Keller-Logan

Maryalice I saw this previously and thought it was a great idea. It reminded me of another article I read about Dutch students who can live rent-free if they spend 30+ hours/month with elderly community members (here's a related piece: There's so much information, learning, and comfort that can be exchanged on both sides and I wonder if there are ways to use this as inspiration for creating more supportive environments for people without family as they reach the end of their life.