Hogeweyk is a peaceful little village in Weesp, Netherlands. The 152 residents who live there all have one thing in common, they are elderly people who have advanced dementia. Visually, the place doesn’t differ much from any regular area of civilization.
There are shops and restaurants everywhere.
There’s a grocery store, a bar, a post office and even an theater featuring plays and musicals. Though there’s one catch about it; the staffs in the village are all registered nurses who are available 24/7 to tend to the elderly’s needs.
This Dutch village is actually an elaborate nursing home initiated by Yvonne van Amerongen, a veteran nursing home staff. She was deeply affected by the mundane lives led by older people at the facility she worked so much so that she reached out to the Dutch government with her idea.
Fortunately, it was approved and fully funded in hopes to see changes in the rather grey lives of the patients. What’s unique about Hogeweyk is that it operates as ‘reminiscence therapy’ where significant aspects of the patients’ own lives are incorporated in their activities at the village to help them with the behavioral and cognitive symptoms of dementia.
The village accommodates 23 houses, each housing six to seven residents who bond over shared interests and life backgrounds.
They are paired with a caregiver per house who takes of their daily needs including preparing their meals, accompanying them to shopping and social events as well as ensuring their overall health and safety.
Life at Hogeweyk truly looks like a sight of heaven.
All around, faces beaming with smile going about chatting with their friends in the garden and slow trots of feet bringing their cats and dogs for a leisure walk fill the place with a wholesome ambience.
The village has one entrance, which is the only way in and out of the place.
They have a strict management who watch the patients’ activities from day to night, all the while making sure they are free to move around without feeling like they are in a nursing home.
Only certified volunteers and approved visitors, including staffs and family members are allowed entry. The staffs there dress casually, to keep it as normal as possible. It also gives a sense of freedom and independence to the residents.
All of their expenses are pre-paid through a foolproof financial plan so they don’t have to worry about how much they spend in a day or restrict their daily activities because of it.
To make the elderly feel more belonged, the interior decor are inspired from those used in the 1950s to 1970s era, a time when the patients were in their youth.
One significant symptom of any form of dementia is that patients tend to forget things easily. In Hogeweyk, the nurses get to the patients’ level of understanding to communicate with them instead of making them feel bad for forgetting something or mistaking a fact about themselves.
The reason for this amazing initiative comes from the established fact that most nursing home facilities have system that encourage isolation for their patients. This practice, while being common, is counterproductive to treating dementia as they are shown to decrease the production of myelin in brain.
Myelin, a fiber essential to the production and retaining of nerve cells slowly disintegrate with limited social interaction and physical movements. Thus, a village like a Hogeweyk is crucial to ensure the cognitive wellbeing of these patients are enhanced through everyday routine.
The proved efficiency of Hogeweyk has inspired other countries such as the U.K., Sweden and Australia to build a ‘therapy village’ for their elderly patients. One lesson we should learn from this project is that acceptance is important to these elderly people. Rather than ostracizing them, try to make them feel understood and acknowledged, which Hogeweyk is doing so well.