In Canada’s first dementia village, residents can walk by themselves outdoors on what seems like a never-ending path.
They can leave by the front door of their house and walk along Main Street past the rock garden to the community centre. Or they can walk toward the Red Barn and circle behind near Bradshaw Meadow.
There’s eight-foot fencing that’s mostly made of cedar bounding the property so residents can’t wander and leave The Village, which has one controlled entrance and exit.
The needs of people living with dementia permeates every aspect of the design, from the pathways around the five-acre site to the spacious interior rooms able to accommodate wheelchairs.
Eitaro Hirota, The Village project architect with NSDA Architects, said one of the principles of designing for people with dementia is that you don’t want dead-end corridors or paths.
“If you have a dead end, it goes to a destination so that it doesn’t seem that the path ends and there’s nothing there,” he said.
A person living with dementia who comes up against a dead end can experience heightened anxiety. In some cases, it can lead to the person going through the door to the other side in what’s called ‘eloping.’
“If you create an environment like The Village, that urge is diminished,” Hirota said. “They have options. They have a variety of destinations to go to.”
The Village opened earlier this summer in Langley. It’s inspired by De Hogeweyk, the world’s first dementia village that opened in The Netherlands in 2009.
Built at a cost of $28 million, Langley’s The Village is designed to make it as easy as possible for someone with dementia to live their life independently. It has a beauty salon/barbershop where people can get their hair cut and styled. There’s a grocery store where residents can buy household items. At the community centre, you can order a coffee or have a meal.
The Village is at 3920-198th St. on what’s known as the old Bradshaw Elementary School site.
Barb Ruscheinski knows The Village well. Her mother Regina, who has dementia, is a resident, as is her aunt Kay Gorse who doesn’t. Both women were at Maple Ridge Seniors Village before moving into The Village. She described the Maple Ridge home as a “wonderful place” with “very caring staff.” What it lacked, however, was the personal attention Ruscheinski’s mother needed.
“We need someone who could pay more attention to her and get her involved in day-to day activities that she always loved to do,” she said. “It’s been such a positive experience for us and our family. We’re very happy to have them there.”
Ruscheinski acknowledged the high cost of living at The Village. Including taxes, rates are $7,300 a month for regular residents and $8,300 a month for complex care.
“We’re very fortunate that they can afford to be there,” she said. “I think the model is fantastic. I think it could be applied just about anywhere.”
The Village builds on the kinds of assisted- and extended-care communities built by Elroy Jespersen during the past 30 years. Jespersen is the vice-president, special projects, for Verve Senior Living and the project leader for The Village.
The site had to be big enough, Jespersen said, so that the residences could all be built on one level with no stairs.
“One of our principles is for villagers to roam free so they can walk out the door without any stairs or barriers,” he said.
The Village has 38 residents, a little less than half of the 78 it’s designed to accommodate. Residents wear a Bluetooth-enabled wrist band that acts as an electronic key for their house and allows for real-time location monitoring.
Earlier this spring, the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C. estimated that 70,000 people in B.C. are living with dementia, an umbrella term that can include many diseases and conditions such as Alzheimer’s, as well as head injuries. By 2033, as many as 120,000 people in B.C. could develop dementia.
“We purposely need to move slowly because it’s new for everybody — new for the people who work here and new for the people who live here,” Jespersen said.
One of The Village‘s unique elements is that each house has the same group of 10 staff who work with 12 residents. A small, consistent group makes it easier for villagers and residents to get to know one another.
Jespersen took Postmedia News on a tour of Holly House, one of the unoccupied residences. The house was identified by its name out front and a symbol of a leaping deer, a visual cue for someone with dementia who loses the ability to read. Inside, Holly House looked like more like a big suburban home than an institutional care facility.
In the bedroom, the wardrobe has a unique design. A person with dementia can mix up the sequence of things and end up wearing underwear over their clothes. The wardrobe rack, visible from the bed, allows clothes to be laid out in their proper order so that someone can dress themselves unassisted when they wake up in the morning.
“Our success will be dependent on people who work here, how well they do their job and how long they stay. That’s our product — this is our packaging,” he said, referring to the surrounding buildings, paths and landscaping.
Jespersen said he’d love for researchers to come into The Village to study whether in fact a village designed and built for people with dementia is a better way to care for them.
“If it is, and we can demonstrate that, then it’s something the government can look to and say, ‘Maybe we should be looking to do more of these,’ ” he said. “We’d love to be able to partner with government and make it more affordable.”