Leave it to the Dutch to save the future. Maybe yours, maybe mine?

1976 OldsmobileShe wakes to a beautiful, clear November morning in 1976. She gets up, dresses, and has breakfast with a few nice elderly people. She has a couple errands, so takes her purse and walks the two blocks to the grocery store.

A nice young man is trimming the hedge out front, and greets her with a friendly wave. She stops and has a nice chat with him. She’s never met him before, so introduces herself, flirts a little, and they discuss the upcoming election. He’s going to vote the same way she is, and this makes her feel confident about the future.

At the store, it’s quite a funny day. There must be a costume party somewhere, because two people are dressed like it’s the 1950s, and three more in bizarre outfits like she’s never seen before. One of the staff laughs with her about it. What a nice young woman.

She walks home with her purchases and meets a nice young man who is doing some gardening out front…

* * *

nursing home hallwayShe wakes to a beautiful, clear November morning in 1976. She gets up, dresses, but when she leaves her room she finds a long hallway that smells like a swimming pool storage shed, with something worse underneath. Old people in wheelchairs are staring at her. A stranger in a white shirt is playing a mean joke, insisting it’s 2014. Why would someone do that?

She wants to run a few errands, but the woman won’t let her. She is being treated like a child. Imprisoned! But her anger avails her nothing, and this woman forces her back to her room. They patronize her so! They try to make her watch TV, but the shows are all wrong. They keep telling her she’s wrong. What’s going on?

* * *

nursing home skooter raceWhen I worked in a pharmacy in high school, I would sometimes make deliveries to three local nursing homes, which were a sad opposite Goldilocks story: three different levels of awful. And visiting my grandmother in hers, a neighbor would routinely come in and begin undressing, which, suffice to say, was not welcomed by my very prim and proper British granny.

 

“If I ever get like that, just put me out of my misery” seems to be something many people say, in these environments. I wonder how many of the inmates once said that… Is there a better way?

Of course there is. I may be having a rough day, but I wouldn’t blog you into this corner and leave you stranded. To the Netherlands! (Of course it’s the Netherlands. God bless those people.)

 

Hogeway benchHogeway is a small “village” on the outskirts of Amsterdam where 152 people with Alzheimer’s or dementia live in small group homes meticulously decorated in accordance with the time period when their memory got stuck. It is staffed with caregivers who appear to the residents as normal gardeners, shopkeepers, post office employees etc. They live their lives in social contact, living what is true, to them. In the retirement homes I’ve seen, residents spend a lot of time being told what they’re not, that they’re wrong, that they’re sick, dying, crazy.

 

With a recent This American Life episode (“Magic Words” Act 2) in mind, which discussed the newer approach to dementia care in which one joins them in their world, instead of fighting against it, I can only hope that this type of village catches on before I reach that age.