Progressive types of Dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease causes a slow decline in the person’s cognitive abilities. As a person’s condition progresses, they will need more and more support with regular daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning, paying bills or even help with personal care such as dressing and bathing.
With the growing numbers of people all around the world being diagnosed every year with dementia, setting up ideal support for these individuals that meet their needs and changing abilities is crucial. Dementia Villages are relatively new and intentionally designed with the understanding of how dementia progresses and the specialized care required at each stage.
As a Dementia Consultant and Educator, I had the privilege to be on the design team for the first-ever true dementia village in Canada known as, The Village Langley – a Verve Senior Living property in Langley B.C.
In this article, I would like to share the inspiration, concept and philosophies for a dementia village and will incorporate the learnings from my experiences along with information from other dementia villages around the world.
The Birth of the “Dementia Village”
The first-ever dementia village was built in Weep, Netherlands in 2009. A few years later, in response to the growing number of people living with dementia, other countries followed including: Germany (2014), France (2019), Canada (2019), and England (2020), to name a few.
What Does a Dementia Village Look Like?
Dementia villages are designed to resemble a small, self-contained neighborhood or village, complete with streets, shops, outdoor resting, cinemas, salons, restaurants, post office and other familiar elements of everyday life.
The concept behind a dementia village is to create a sense of “normal living”, within a safe and secured community that allows residents freedom of movement, (both indoors and outdoors). daily purpose, personalized care and independence in all stages of dementia. It is also all about creating an environment that is less “hospital- or institution- like” in order to reduce fears and/or anxiety due to any past negative stigma relating to traditional nursing homes.
The layout is carefully planned to be easy to navigate, with clear signage and other visuals or colour cues to help residents find their way around. To support and encourage independence and physical activity, there are street signs in the community to help residents explore the community and remember how to get back home or go to where they need to go. The Village in Langley for example, utilizes an appropriate and modest number of colours as visual cues for residents. This was intentional to maintain a good balance of safety and dignity.
Philosophies of a Dementia Village
At the core of dementia villages is the philosophy of person-directed and person-centered care. Dementia villages prioritize the individual’s well-being, choice, emphasizing dignity, respect, and autonomy. These specialized communities also aim to provide a safe, supportive, and stimulating environment for people living with dementia in all stages and changes.
Everyday activities, such as cooking, gardening, and engaging in hobbies, are integrated into the daily routine, allowing residents to maintain a sense of normalcy and purpose. One of the other main ideas behind any dementia village is to give every resident the feeling of freedom (i.e., as opposed to feeling that they are “locked up” in a facility and prohibited from leaving their homes).
Another important feature of dementia villages is the provision of continuous education and capacity building for staff as well as support for family caregivers.
Knowledge is both power and empowerment. There is much to learn about dementia behaviour. The better we understand dementia, from experts and with our peers, the more confident we are in our caregiving skills. Continuous education also helps keep both care-giver and care-recipient safe, reduce caregiver burnout and develop meaningful relationships that create a positive impact on everyone’s well-being.
What Makes a Dementia Village Different from “Regular” Long-Term Care Facilities?
Here are a few other features of a dementia Village:
- Small Number of Residents Per Household (i.e., around 8 to 12 residents per home compared to traditional care homes of closer to 20 residents per wing/floor)
- No long corridors
- No nursing stations or anything that represents a hospital environment
- Large outdoor space/land for group or self-directed activities such as gardening and long walks
- Lots of wayfinding options for people to remain as independent as possible in their community
- All staff and volunteers are educated on best practices in dementia care and effective behavioural management.
- Uniforms are not encouraged in order to provide a more home-like atmosphere.
In my experience as a Dementia Consultant and Educator, having more specialized living environments such as dementia villages are needed to reverse the unfortunate trend that we are seeing with our aging population. They provide a dementia-friendly environment conducive for practicing person-directed and person-centred care. Most importantly, dementia villages are proof that with creative and dementia-adaptive solutions, people living with dementia can continue to enjoy a normal or as-close-to-normal quality of life across all stages in their dementia journey.
Karen Tyrell CPCA, CDCP is a Dementia Consultant, Educator, Author & Advocate, and Founder of Personalized Dementia Solutions Inc. (www.DementiaSolutions.ca). Karen offers her expertise on dementia care through speaking engagements; workshops; support groups (both online and in-person) and by working one-on-one with families/caregivers to provide emotional support and practical solutions. She was also on the design team for The Village Langley (Verve Senior Living) and provides ongoing education to the Village team, families and the community. If you would like to learn more, please feel free to reach out.
The contents of this blog are provided for information purposes only. They are not intended to replace clinical diagnosis or medical advice from a health professional.