Dementia Village

When my children were young, they used to play at running a cafe and set up everything – the toy teaset and cutlery, handwritten menus and bills. I was often corralled in to be a patron, and made to order and eat up and pay up. When I wasn’t available or wouldn’t play, they just made do themselves. It gave me a pang to listen to them play at life – and what would you like to eat? Any drinks with that? Here’s your food. Bon appetit! 

There is an award-winning home for persons with dementia somewhere in Europe. It has beautiful apartments and gardens, where the residents can walk about and wander without “escaping”. Laid out like a little town, in this dementia residence, clients can visit the supermarket, restaurant and hair salon. Well-trained healthcare staff dress up as shopkeepers and unobtrusively observe and aid the persons with dementia (PWD). Any unsuitable purchases or payments are tactfully rectified without embarrassing them, and often without their knowledge.

I couldn’t understand it. I am sure I wouldn’t want to live in an segregated dementia village, where I am kept safe but essentially locked in, and given the delusion of freedom and free will. It smacks of condescension and play-acting. I don’t think I would want that, although I’m sure it is the best solution for some PWD. I should reserve judgement though, who knows what I’d want if and when my mind goes.

Instead of putting PWD into a village, perhaps we should bring the “village” into the community. How do we do this? This video from UK (May 2014) suggests how persons with mild dementia may get by “with a little help from friends”. A story here from Japan tells of how an entire community chips in to look out for an elderly woman with moderate to severe dementia who wanders for miles daily.

In short, whichever solution we choose, PWD ought to be able to live out their lives with dignity and comfort in a safe environment. The same can be said for their caregivers.