Leave it to the Dutch to save the future. Maybe yours, maybe mine?
She 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…
* * *
She 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?
* * *
When 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 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.
(Note: none of the photos in this post are mine, I got them all in online image searches.)
Wow. What a wonderful concept. I can’t wait to listen to the podcast!
My grandmother and a long-time family friend both had significant dementia/Alzheimer’s, the former living in a state of anxious tension, and the latter in a glowing ease of soft smiles. I love the idea of a system that helps move people towards the second option.
The podcast isn’t about the community, but it’s worth a listen anyway, as This American Life usually is!
Brilliant stuff, am so glad you posted this. Jorrit’s old company, Submarine, helped to make an interactive movie designed for medical students, so they can learn to relate to their Alzheimer patients from their point of view.
Hopefully by the time you reach your grandmothers’ age you too will be smiling softly in a bed of cotton wool!
Thanks for the link, that was very interesting. I’m glad to see that compassion and empathy are valued aspects of treatment. Though I suppose by the time we’re that age, we’ll have cybernetic memories inserted to prevent such illness…or they’ll just hook us up to machines and we can actually live in 2014. Oh…wait..what if…right now…? Naaaah.
Hogeway sounds like an awesome place for these people. I am a nurse and as I student I worked in nursing homes, some were awful and some of the staff were horrible to the poor residents.
Those stories, of staff abuse, are the worst. I can only imagine the patience it takes to work in those places for long periods, and the emotional difficulty of watching people die, but…yeah. It seems like an approach like this, were people are happier and living better, would also make it easier on the caretakers. I meant to write a follow up post about how places like this can only happen in socialist countries, for now…but here’s hoping they catch on, on a broader scale.
I hope so too, a lot of the stuff I saw wasn’t abuse as such, well probably no one would be charged with abuse for it, but it was more just meaness, staff rolling their eyes and sighing when the oldies were slow, not really giving a shit when people got upset, and staff just acting as though they just did not want to be there. there were some wonderful staff as well, but the poor old people never knew who’d they’d get on any given day. I’ll be interested for the follow up post when it comes.
Grreat post thankyou