The Guardian Dementia is widely acknowledged to be one of the most pressing problems facing health and social care systems. A report published this year by the World Health Organisation predicted that a continually ageing population in the developed world would mean the number of people with the condition was likely to double, to more than 65 million, by 2030, and treble 20 years later. [...]
Over the past few months, experts from around the world – Germany, the US, Australia, soon Britain – have been flocking to the unassuming small Dutch town of Weesp, half an hour south-east of Amsterdam, to see how one pioneering institution is dealing with that challenge. Hogewey, where Jo Verhoeff lives, has developed an innovative, humane and apparently affordable way of caring for people with dementia.
"What happened," says Isabel van Zuthem, Hogewey's information officer, sitting at a cafe table on the home's wide and welcoming piazza, an ornamental fountain playing behind her, "is that back in 1992, when this was still a traditional nursing home for people with dementia – you know: six storeys, anonymous wards, locked doors, crowded dayrooms, non-stop TV, central kitchen, nurses in white coats, heavy medication – two of the staff who worked here unexpectedly lost their mothers.
"Each said to the other: Well, at least it happened quickly, and they didn't end up here; this place is so horrible. Then they realised what they'd just said, and started to think: what kind of home would we like for a relative with dementia? Where might we want to live, maybe, one day? How would we like our life to be; what would we hope to experience?" [...]
The answer turns out to be this smart, low, brick-built complex, completed in early 2010. A compact, self-contained model village on a four-acre site on the outskirts of town, half of it is open space: wide boulevards, cosy side-streets, squares, sheltered courtyards, well-tended gardens with ponds, reeds and a profusion of wild flowers. The rest is neat, two-storey, brick-built houses, as well as a cafe, restaurant, theatre, minimarket and hairdressing salon. [...]