“Leaving there and continuing for three days eastward, you get to Diomira, a town with sixty domes of silver, all gods bronze statues, streets paved with lead, a theatre of glass and a golden cockerel crowing every morning in a tower. All these beauties are already familiar to visitors, who have also seen them in other cities. But the special quality of this city for men that arrive there on a summer night, when days are becoming shorter and multicolored lights light at the same time than doors of food shops and from a terrace a woman shouts ooh!, is that you feel envy toward those who believe that they have lived an identical night and think that they were happy at that moment.“
Cities and memory 1 (Italo Calvino, invisible cities, 1972)
In the current month’s article, we are going to talk about a very special city. But we will first speak of their inhabitants, who are even more special. Most of those who live here are like you and me. Ugly, handsome, high, short, with black, green or blue eyes, fat or skinny. If you came to this city, you can find anybody: married, widowed, single, with or without children, with vibrant or boring lifes. Travellers, restless, serene, intrepid, cautious, brave, God-fearing, passionate. The curious thing about this destination is that with whom you find there, you will have something in common.
This city is in the Netherlands and it is called: “Dementia Village”.
The initial idea came up in 1992 to Yvonne Van Amerongen, a worker in a Care Home. Yvonne believed that people with dementia preferred to act with their environment rather watching TV or just letting the clock run with nothing to do. This idea continued and, in 2009 Dementia Village opened its doors. Designed by architects Molenaar & Bowl & Van Dillen.
The city consists of two buildings of bricks and one supermarket, hair salon, theatre, café and restaurant where patients can move freely since all those who work there are care personnel (doctors, nurses, carers, social workers, etc.).
Construction of “Dementia Village” had a total cost of 19.3 million euros of which 17.8 were paid by the local government. Local organizations paid the rest.
Another financing source is the theatre and the Café that are open to the public in general, having a double objective: finance themselves and having people who live there interacting with all kinds of people. This, with no doubt, is another aspect for the integration into the daily life as opposed to the isolation suffered by the majority of people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
The city has 23 houses where live 7 in each of them. 7 environments are also recreated so regardless to the origin or likes of the people, they can choose the environment where they feel more integrated. The environments are Stadse, for those used to living in cities, Gooise, for those with more aristocratic feeling, Ambachtelijke for thoseused to work with artisans or merchants, Indische, for those from Indonesia and the former Indian, Huiselijke are colonies for housewives, Culturele, for those with have a deep relationship with the world of theatre and cinema and Christelijke for those whose religion is essential in their lives, neither they are Christians or from another religion.
To make life in Dementia Village as close as possible to reality for their inhabitants, not only the interior design of each of the environments is adapted to the style of life, but also the music that plays in each of them. But this is not enough in Dementia Village to make the life of its inhabitants as comfortable as possible: carers carry clothes adapted to the role they play in each of the environments. In working-class environment they simulate to be neighbors, while in the atmosphere of aristocratic class, they carry clothes of waitress or maid/e.
The residents within each House have their own room and share the rest with the dining room, the lounge and the kitchen.
In addition, with the aim that the residents feel useful and active in their daily lives, they go to the grocery store to make the purchase that will be used for their meals and also help the chefs to prepare it as if they were at home. They even scrub the dishes.
There are no locks on doors, and residents are free to stroll through the city”, stopping if desired in the supermarket, theatre or coffee.
So basically, Dementia Village is conceived as a space that simulates the reality under medical supervision, in order that persons suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia can feel useful and integrated.
So if you go to this city, and visit the cafe or the theatre you already know that you can find people like you and me, i.e., with plenty to do and live. Nothing more, nothing less.
“What remains is the wonderful life that we used to live and we still want to live. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Dementia Village Architects.