A model for better aging? Stetson students visit Dementia Village during study abroad in the Netherlands

Stetson Law students visited a model Dementia Village in the Netherlands as part of their elder law coursework during study abroad in the Hague. Photo courtesy Karolina Apa.

Stetson Law students visited a model Dementia Village in the Netherlands as part of their elder law coursework during study abroad in The Hague. Photo courtesy Karolina Apa.

By Kai Su

“When I first heard the phrase ‘Dementia Village’ from my law professor, I was not sure what to expect,” said third-year Stetson Law student Karolina Apa. ” I vividly imagined a country style village in the middle of nowhere, and quietly said to myself, ‘this can’t be it.’  Then, since I live in Florida, I imagined a 55-plus community type of neighborhood of vibrant members who experience reduced isolation, increased independence, and enhanced purpose of life.”

While studying abroad in The Hague this summer, Apa had an opportunity to visit a place called De Hogeweyk, a dementia village or neighborhood, which serves as a model for better aging in America. CNN profiled ‘Dementia Village’ in 2013.

“It was more like a city,” said Apa.

Professor Rebecca Morgan led a lunchtime discussion with students on Oct. 2 about Dementia Village. Photo by Merve Ozcan.

Professor Rebecca Morgan led a lunchtime discussion with students on Oct. 2 about Dementia Village. Photo by Merve Ozcan.

Apa and about 20 other students took the field trip in the Netherlands during summer abroad for their International Global Aging course with Boston Asset Management Chair in Elder Law Rebecca Morgan. The goal was to see how the Netherlands deals with global aging and dementia patients. After the trip, the students were asked to reflect on the experience and decide whether the concept would work in the United States.

Professor Morgan organized a lunch on Stetson’s Gulfport campus for the students who visited Dementia Village to share their experiences with the Elder Law Concentration and International Law LL.M. students on Oct. 2.

The small town of Weesp, Netherlands is located about two hours from The Hague. A group of 23 residences surrounds a mini community in the center—complete with a movie theater, restaurant, pub, fitness center, grocery store, and salon.

“Once you walk in, people just lead their normal lives,” Apa said. “The village has streets, squares, gardens, and a park with a fountain where the residents can safely roam free.”

There are about seven multi-bedroom houses, all in different styles, which the residents can choose to suit their individual lifestyles. They can decorate their own rooms as well. Each household and each resident has a budget for things such as groceries and personal care items.

“The concept is to have the dementia-suffering seniors leading normal lives, with fewer restrictions,” Apa said. “They are allowed to do everything they would normally do in their own home.”

The village has one doctor, and each house is staffed with nurses and volunteers to help the residents organize their daily routines, from waking up to socializing with other residents, grocery shopping, cooking, doing laundry, watching television, or whatever other activities they choose to do. The staff provides constant supervision, taking shifts throughout the day.

“It’s constant security and supervision, but the residents have no idea they are being looked after,” Apa described. “It’s more of an ‘I’m living here with you and trying to help you’ type of approach.”

To qualify for the village, residents have to be in stage five of dementia, which is very high on the Reisberg Scale.

“It’s sad to know that all the residents have a severe stage of dementia, but they look happy,” Apa said. “The women are all dressed up, looking nice with makeup on and their hair done… and they’re just happy to be there and happy to talk to you.”

While Apa was quite impressed by her experience at Dementia Village, she said that she is skeptical about whether the concept would be successful in the United States because we are a very litigious society.

Apa said she believes that the risks for tort liability—such as stumbling and falling, or breaking a leg—would lead to lawsuits if a similar village was created in the U.S. She also described how certain living situations that were permissible at Dementia Village, such as keeping a pet even though other residents might be allergic, could be legally problematic here.

One big difference between the Netherlands and the U.S. is that Europe does not have a tort law system. Accordingly, there is no basis for negligence claims at the village.

“Basically you sign off your rights,” Apa said. “You put your loved one into that care.”

The village is funded by the Netherlands’ government through taxes. Apa said the budget for maintaining it is not too high, according to a presentation given by the president of Dementia Village.

Apa said that the U.S. is working to create a similar model for dementia patients.

“I can see why,” Apa said. “It’s a great concept, and it’s all about quality of life. A normal house in a normal village in a safe environment gives the residents of Hogeweyk the freedom in safety.”

Apa is planning to pursue corporate law, but she said that she wanted to attend The Hague study abroad program because she had heard it was a great opportunity. Apa said she had no idea something like Dementia Village existed before her trip there.

“It was such an eye-opening experience,” she said.

“Having the opportunity to experience the cutting edge care and practices of Dementia Village, in person, is one of the many great benefits of studying abroad,” said Assistant Dean of International Programs JR Swanegan. “Our students gain perspective from these immersive experiences by becoming more culturally competent and empathetic people and future attorneys.”