When former U.S. President Ronald Reagan was suffering from Alzheimer's disease, his wife Nancy called it a "truly long, long goodbye." And she wrote about how cruel Alzheimer's can be.
In her book, 'I Love You Ronnie,' Mrs. Reagan wrote "...it's a progressive disease... there's no place to go but down, no light at the end of the tunnel. You get tired and frustrated, because you have no control and you feel helpless."
Well, we came across a great story in the Guardian today about a nursing home that's doing everything it can to make Alzheimer's and dementia not nearly so cruel.
The home is in a small town in the Netherlands, just outside Amsterdam. And it's doing a total re-think on how we care for people with dementia.
Back in the early 90s, it was your classic nursing home - bland, white, and pretty depressing. But two nurses there got an idea: why not a build a place where people might actually want to live? In 2010, it happened.
The result was a new home called Hogeway. Four acres, lots of open space with quiet boulevards, courtyards and beautiful gardens. The rest is a series of two-storey, nicely decorated homes, along with a café, restaurant, theatre, hair salon and a small market.
Just over 150 people live there; average age 83; all of them with severe dementia; all of them referred to as residents, not "patients." They're cared for by 250 staff, plus volunteers. And it's paid for by Dutch public health insurance.
Officials say the idea is to make life as normal as possible for the residents, keep them as active and independent as possible, so they're not just wasting away quietly in bed.
It makes complete sense, especially as our population keeps aging and more and more people will end up with dementia. In fact, a report from the World Health Organization estimates the number of people in the developed world with dementia will double, to 65 million, by 2030. Then triple by 2050.
In Canada, more than 500,000 people have Alzheimer's or other dementia. That number is expected to double in the next 25 years.
Hogeway has 25 clubs - everything from cooking and painting, to literature and bingo, to cycling and classical music.
Plus, residents are free to go shopping, stop in at the café, walk the grounds, and visit anyone they want. If they get confused, a staff member is always around to help.
As one staff member puts it, it's about "focusing on everything they can still do, rather than everything they can't. Because when you have dementia, you're ill, but there may really not be much else wrong with you."
As well, the home has a strong relationship with the local community. Anyone can eat at the restaurant, local artists have shows in the gallery, and schools use the theatre.
The home's manager says "I think maybe we've shown that even if it is cheaper to build the kind of care home neither you or I would ever want to live in, the kind of place where we've looked after people with dementia for the past 30 years or more, we perhaps shouldn't be doing that any more."
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