Three years ago, Barry Meihuizen was looking for work in the newspaper. Suddenly, he saw an advertisement that interested him: a waiter's stand in the Hogeweyk restaurant, a nursing home for patients with severe senile dementia. What he did not imagine is that in this place the elderly could have a beer, or even a gin tonic. If he accepted the job, Meihuizen would not be a waiter to use. "I had to take a course to find out who are those who have high blood pressure, sugar problems or those who can not drink alcohol," says the 36-year-old man, who accepted the challenge of working in Villa Dementia. A village of just 170 inhabitants located on the outskirts of the town of Weesp, about 15 minutes by train from Amsterdam.
"We want them to lead a normal life in the most realistic environment possible," says Eloy Van Hal, one of the founders.
This type of urbanization, of more than 15,000 square meters, is formed by thirty houses, a dozen streets and a couple of squares, but the enclosure is completely closed to the outside. Here, the elderly with Alzheimer's (the most common type of dementia) are forbidden to go out alone. Although if you wish you can rent a bicycle and walk around Weesp with a caregiver. "We want them to make a normal life in the most realistic environment possible. What is not natural is to put the residents in bed waiting all day for the pill and food, "explains Eloy Van Hal, one of the founders of Hogeweyk.
Until 1993, Hogeweyk was a conventional public residence. But that year, the board then "decided to reformulate the concept of geriatric to promote the welfare of residents." They started with the dining room: they enabled the elderly to enter the kitchen to help prepare the food, then they divided the residents into different groups according to their needs. hobbies and they encouraged the activities. "They soon found that their stress level was low and that, therefore, no medication was necessary," says Van Hal.
The neurologist and Prince of Asturias Award for Scientific Research in 2005, António Damasio, endorses the experiment: "Maintaining a normal sense of life probably helps the well-being of patients. Alzheimer's patients are losing their ability to remember, reason, even use language. But curiously their emotions and feelings are preserved for a long time. This allows caregivers to relate to them humanely. "
The project gave such good results that in 2009 they demolished the old building and erected this village in which its inhabitants spend their last years of life. "All residents of Hogeweyk die. The average life here is two and a half years. Our goal is to spend that time as well as possible, "says Eloy Van Hal, 51, from one of the tables in the restaurant that, just one more day, has just opened its doors at 10.30 in the morning.
Today the Christmas market is celebrated in Villa Dementia. Vendors set up their stands in the main square, the covered terrace and the theater. A couple of elderly women defy the cold and smoke a cigarette in front of the tiny artificial water channel that is on the boulevard and on which lie some ducks float. Nearby, Caroline Van Dende and her mother Eline, 80, walk by. "She suffers from vascular dementia, but at least she continues to recognize us," says the daughter, 57, who has come from Utrecht to be with her mother today. "At first we had to convince her to come here, but she is adapting, they love it the dance classes. "
In Hogeweyk there are streets, squares, supermarket, a restaurant, even a theater. It is a kind of village closed to the outside for Alzheimer's patients
"This residence experiment is undoubtedly better than a conventional geriatric, the patients there are entertained, but there is an aspect that is not resolved and it is the historical de-socialization of the person with dementia, in this town they make a different life. They do not relate to their friends, to their family, but to other people with cognitive problems and caregivers, "says neurologist Nolasc Acarín, an expert in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
A group of students of an institute will spend the day of the Christmas market with the elderly. Two girls have accompanied the resident Annie K., 83 years old to take a walk around the neighborhood. On the way home, the old woman adjusts herself to the armchair. "Have you bought something?" Asks Miguela de Vries, one of the caregivers. "No, that I know," he replies.
In each house reside seven residents supervised by two caregivers. While a health professional is pending medical issues, an assistant is responsible for household chores (kitchen, cleaning, laundry, etc.). Hogeweyk has 280 employees; 180 work full time. "Sometimes they think that we are a neighbor who comes to help them, others are more aware that they are in a residence, it depends on the day," De Vries explains.
A place in this public residence costs the Dutch State about 6,000 euros per month. The resident only pays between 150 and 2,000 euros per month, depending on his pension and economic condition
She works in a Dutch-style house. Here traditional dishes of the country are cooked and next to the TV the DVD's of concerts of the famous patriotic composer André Rieu. In Villa Dementia There are four lifestyles: there are those who prefer to be in a more cosmopolitan style house and enjoy international cuisine, others are more urban and there are also those who seek more exclusive spaces.
One of the people who best knows the tastes of the inhabitants of Hogeweyk is Trudy Vernooij, the store clerk. "The residents usually come with the caregivers to make the purchase, but sometimes they go alone and disoriented, I try to calm them, I tell them they go home. They almost always listen to me, "says this 59-year-old woman with no health education. It is endorsed by the experience of having spent two decades in front of the cashier taking care of Alzheimer's patients. Each resident manages a personal account that manages the family, they do not have money.
The price for living in Villa Dementia reaches 6,000 euros per month. Being a public geriatric, the financing is state in a country where the tax burden is quite high. "What each resident pays in the end ranges from 150 euros to 2,600 euros, depending on their pension and economic situation," explains Eloy Van Hal. But it says: "Hogeweyk has the same budget as a normal public residence." Yes, activities for the elderly are paid separately. If you want to go to the hairdresser, you have to pay for the haircut at the market price. Every year, there is a waiting list to get a place.
The original model of Hogeweyk has become a reference in the care and welfare of these patients, has received international awards and is being exported to countries such as Canada, Italy, France, Australia or New Zealand. "But here we still do not have any residence of this kind," says Noemí Martínez, vice president of the Alzheimer Spain Foundation. In our country, more than 700,000 people suffer from this disease and the projections for 2050 suggest that the number of patients will have doubled. The cost of this epidemic is more than 24,000 million euros year.
"During the crisis we have lost a lot of economic resources, so that services are maintained, but you can not add new ones, "laments Martínez. Services like those offered by waiter Barry Meihuizen in the Villa Demencia restaurant. At four in the afternoon he starts serving coffee. Some resident has already asked you several times where the bus stop is to return home. "Sometimes I feel like groundhog day, but I prefer this job to serving tourists in Amsterdam."
More than five million people suffer from dementia currently in the countries of the European Union. The loss of cognitive abilities of Alzheimer's patients is progressive. Patients have a life expectancy of up to 10 years after diagnosis. "We are still unable to stop the evolution of Alzheimer"Says neurologist Nolasc Acarín Tusell. Apart from advances in research, experts point out more and more the importance of caring for these patients, unable to fend for themselves.
A study published by the association Alzheimer Europe – and made in France, Germany, Poland, Scotland and Spain, says that only 17% of the 1,200 caregivers surveyed recognize that the level of care and care of these elderly in their respective countries is good. This study, published by the association Alzheimer Europe, shows that professionals demand more information about the development of the disease, which goes beyond the loss of memory. One of its main concerns is to address the behavioral problems suffered by these patients (such as disorders, personality changes, anxiety attacks or aggression).