While the U.S. and other countries experiment with ways to make their communities more accessible to people with dementia, some sites in northern Europe are home to entire dementia villages.

These closed communities are designed to help people with dementia live what feels like a relatively independent, normal life while providing support for people with significant cognitive impairments.

Many residents of dementia villages are unaware that they live anywhere out of the ordinary.

The first dementia village was the Netherlands’ De Hogeweyk, which provides 23 houses to 152 residents with dementia.

Residents are offered as much autonomy and privacy as possible, while a team of trained staff members assist them in daily activities like grocery shopping and laundry.

The Danish Brygghuset-Svendborg village offers similar services, and the Swedish town of Vellinge is working to convert its elderly care home Månstorp into a dementia village.

Ordinary life

“We are trying to create a home or living situation that resembles the ordinary village as possible,” Mavis Zander, the local politician responsible for elderly care in Vellinge, told Considerable. “The dementia village is an open village without doors. Instead we make sure that all the roads lead back to where you start from.

“The outdoor environment stimulates the elderly. They can grow flowers and take care of the hens or just sit down and listen to the waterfalls. Indoors, we offer a café, and little shops to buy chocolate or secondhand clothing. There is a swimming pool and a bar as well.”

Many residents of dementia villages are unaware that they live anywhere out of the ordinary, and are granted relief from disorienting or confusing experiences that the outside world can bring them.

“The people living there can live a meaningful life despite their diagnosis,” Zander said.

Glenner Town Square

Residential dementia villages don’t exist in the U.S. quite yet, but similar programs are in place that could lead the way for residential development soon. San Francisco’s Glenner Town Square, for example, is a retro “town” designed in the Main St, USA style of 1953 to 1961.

It’s meant to jog some peoples’ memories or at least make them feel at home in a time that’s now passed.

Scott Tarde, CEO of George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers, the company behind the Town Square, plans to construct 100 retro day villages within 20 years. Forthcoming locations will be in Baltimore, Maryland, and Louisville, Kentucky.

The towns use a technique called reminiscence therapy, which focuses on trying to bring up positive memories.

People with dementia are often able to access long term memories more easily than short term, so they can share anecdotes of their younger lives as they’re reminded of stories while visiting a Town Square.

The 8,500-square-foot area includes 24 buildings and 12 storefronts, including a diner, USPS, barbershop, pet store, library, museum, and movie theater.

Visitors can spend the day wandering in and out of establishments in small groups or with their caregivers, and there are plenty of planned activities to sign up for.

The Glenner Town Square staff is all trained in how best to talk to and interact with people with dementia.

“A lot of thought and planning has gone into the Town Square,” Lisa Tyburski, one of the developers of the town square, told Forbes. “For instance, we found a Hollywood prop company, History for Hire, that can provide any era furniture and other décor, and we are creating fire hydrants and other street props made of rubber or fiberglass, so they are safe for our patients.”

Some of the details make Glenner Town Square sound a bit like a Disneyland for people with dementia.

San Francisco’s Glenner Town Square, for example, is a retro “town” designed in the Main St, USA style of 1953 to 1961.

And in line with the “Happiest Place on Earth” ideology, Glenner Town Square aims to be a place of relaxation and respite from the confusion and frustration that dementia brings into so many other aspects of life.

“A diagnosis of dementia doesn’t have to mean the end of your life. I’ve been able to see it isn’t a bad thing, it’s just different,” Tom Christian, whose wife Grace has dementia, told Forbes.

“Grace and I always said we both wanted a marriage where we spent as much time together as possible. The idea that we can stroll through a city street together and maybe go to a 1950s movie for a while creates a positive for me out of a not-so-positive situation.”

He went on to say, “I don’t want to trivialize dementia in any way, but there can still be joy and magic moments to be shared and this gives us a place to do that.”

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