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GERO 412: Guest lecture from Elon van Hal of Dementia Village

January 22, 2018

Student Op-Ed – Gero 412: Guest lecture from Elon van Hal of Dementia Village

Do you believe in a shift in seniors’ care from a medical model to a social model? SFU Gerontology Professor Dan Levitt introduced different possibilities for seniors’ care from other parts of the world and helped us, his students, think outside of the box. On October 5th at the Fairmont Vancouver Hotel, the founder of De Hogeweyk, Elon van Hal, shared a blueprint of how to make this transformative vision into reality, and spoke to various local organizations including government health care providers and at SFU’s Harbour Centre campus for Gerontology students. De Hogeweyk, also known as Dementia Village, is a state-funded non-profit seniors’ living model in the Netherlands, renowned for having transformed a nursing home to a neighbourhood setting. The focus and principle of this model is on human beings and their values. van Hal says, “Prevention of everything is impossible! Taking away normal details takes away the feeling of normal life.” He considered different life and personality styles when designing De Hogeweyk and paid close attention to details, such as balconies, fountains, sidewalks, benches, and lots of green space. He emphasized the core values of respect and quality in care by saying, “Do it the way you would do at home.” At De Hogeweyk residents are involved and active in expressing their interests, skills, and gifts. Importantly, they are allowed to engage in the normal day-to-day activities as they have done for the past 50-60 years: doing laundry, preparing a sandwich, biking with friends and family while enjoying fresh air, sunlight, and socialization.

People with cognitive impairment, including dementia, are especially sensitive to the stresses of living and/or functioning with 30-40 other people, especially in a hospital ward set-up. That is why it is important to offer alternate living situations where individuals can feel familiarity, with food they have enjoyed and music and movies of interest. These elements and minute details are what help create the feeling of home. After all, no home is the same and “one size doesn’t fit all.” This model of care increases the well-being of the residents as confusion and anxiety are minimized through familiar surroundings, particularly for residents who have symptoms of dementia. van Hal was generous and direct with his recommendations when he added, “We are not perfect, we are constantly working on improving our practice” and suggested that his audience look at offering all-inclusive rooms as a better option for privacy. Social inclusion is another aspect that makes this model different compared to standard care homes; supermarkets, pubs, restaurants, theaters, and performance spaces have been incorporated into De Hogeweyk and are open to the public and the residents. Each house consists of six to seven residents with a few staff members who are trained to offer cooking, personal care, and basic nursing needs. The residents use fewer medications with the support of this living style and physical activities that are programmed by professional management team and staff members. The idea is to offer seniors a home where they can enjoy quality of life with a focus on favourable surroundings, life’s pleasures and meaning of life, employees and volunteers, health, organization, and lifestyle. As a Health Sciences/Gerontology student, it was inspiring and refreshing to see different possibilities of seniors’ living and possible applications that can be suitable for the increasing seniors’ population in British Columbia.

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