Socially Innovative Dutch Dementia Care

With a rapidly growing elderly population worldwide, the number of seniors with dementia is also on the rise and there is mounting interest in how the physical and emotional needs of this community will be met in the best way possible.  Once again the Dutch appear to be leading the way, finding innovative ways to care for older adults with dementia while preserving their dignity and reducing the need for prescription medication to keep patients calm.

According to a recent New York Times report, finding creative and drug-free ways to help dementia patients manage the stress of forgetfulness and disorientation is the goal of a new type of care facility.  Beginning in the 1990s, the Dutch government started funding dementia care facilities that utilize a variety of therapies including sound, light and most recently video simulation to calm and enhance the lives of residents.   

Instead of placing large numbers of residents together, homes like Vitalis Peppelrode in Eindhoven, group seniors with six to ten other residents in an area with a common living room and kitchen where they are encouraged to participate in the preparation of food, enjoy dancing and music or creating art.  Other therapeutic tools may include a robotic animal to cuddle or simulated scenery to enjoy while taking a “bus ride” through the countryside.

Careful attention is also paid to the decor which is designed to bring comfort and transport residents back to a time they may more clearly remember from their youth.  While dementia patients may forget very recent events or people, they often can clearly remember pleasant times as children.  Music and visual cues from the past can calm and uplift residents who are fearful or agitated when they become disoriented.

And by staying active, rather than being sedated and spending hours in bed or sitting idly in chairs, residents in settings that more closely resemble a home or a village experience a vastly improved quality of life.  This approach also helps caregivers provide support without the need for excessive use of medications.

There are an estimated 46.8 million people worldwide living with dementia and it is expected that this number will nearly double every 20 years between now and 2050.  Providing compassionate care for a rapidly growing number of elderly adults with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is an immediate concern for governments and health care systems worldwide.   Learn more about socially innovative approaches for caring for people with dementia here.