Here's How America Should Actually Be Treating People with Dementia

December 10th 2016

Millions of people in the U.S. have a form of dementia, and that number is increasing rapidly. And that means more Americans will need facilities to care for them.

The Netherlands has a program that could provide a model for care: a dementia village.

Dementia is an umbrella term for multiple diseases and conditions — including Alzheimer's disease — with symptoms that include memory loss and difficulty thinking or problem solving, according to the U.K. Alzheimer's Society.

There were 46 million people with dementia across the globe in 2015, and the number is expected to double by 2030.

What is a dementia village?

A dementia village, simply put, is a small town dedicated to the treatment of the dementia patients who live there. Other people in the village — the barber, the chef in the restaurant — are trained in specialized health care. Everything in the village is designed to ensure the safety of the inhabitants and to preserve their dignity and humane treatment.

The first dementia village started in the Amsterdam area in 2009 after two Dutch nurses decided they did not want to put their aging parents in extended care facilities, according to CNN. They built a community called Hogeway exclusively for people with severe dementia, which now houses about 160 such people.

Inhabitants can wander around at will: There's only one way in and out, and it's secured 24 hours a day. Residents are free to perform everyday tasks: grocery shopping, getting a haircut. They are continually supervised. Music and singing are encouraged (it has a calming effect).

CNN's Sanjay Gupta visited Hogeway in 2013 and approved:

"As things stand now, people with dementia are largely ignored. They live in nondescript buildings and anonymous wards with lots of white coats, nonstop blaring television, and superfluous sedation. But what if more of those wards could look like the picturesque village of Hogewey?"

The idea is spreading.

Dementia Village Advisors opened a community in Rome this year and another in Denmark last month: Svendborg converted an existing care center into a dementia village for up to 225 residents, according to the Danish news outlet The Local DK.

Canada created its own version of a dementia village last year.

Americans should pay attention.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia. There is currently no cure for it, and as it progresses, people will need more daily care.

About 5.2 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer's disease. Every state is expected to see at least a a 14 percent increase in cases by 2025, according to a report this year by the Alzheimer's Association.

But there are obstacles to developing dementia villages in the U.S.

Denmark, the Netherlands, and to a lesser degree Canada have much higher tax rates than the U.S. and offer residents much broader social benefits and health care services.

The U.S. doesn't. The Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, expanded health care coverage for more Americans, but many Republicans — including President-elect Donald Trump — would like to dismantle it.

Without some kind of government support, it's unlikely that dementia villages would gain much traction in the U.S.

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