The Dutch have pioneered a unique approach to caring for dementia patients that’s considered among the best in the world. They have created respectful, socially rich environments so patients experience a sense of normalcy, which mitigates symptoms of the disease. Around the world, an estimated 50 million people are living with dementia — a number expected to rise to 152 million by 2050. While the population ages and the numbers grow, the search for a cure goes on.
Residents spend time engaged in activities like simulated shopping or gardening. —Rafal Milach/Magnum
On the outskirts of Amsterdam in Weesp, Netherlands, a lively community that mimics the way the real world looks and functions was created for people with dementia. Residents can enjoy working in one of several outdoor gardens, shopping in the home’s grocery store while using their own in-house currency, helping to make dinner, mailing a letter or package at the post office, or choosing to visit a pub or storefront club — all contained within the facility.
Johanna Schoenmakers, 85, receives a massage at Vitalis Peppelrode, an assisted living facility in Eindhoven, Netherlands. —Rafal Milach/Magnum
Another approach involves generational integration. The Humanitas long-term care facility in Deventer, Netherlands, requires college-age students to spend at least 30 hours a month socializing and helping its aging residents. In return, the students live on-site in modest, rent-free apartments.
Vitalis Peppelrode resident Maria Munter, 84, plays the accordion. —Rafal Milach/Magnum
Altogether, six students share the building with 150 residents 70 and older, like Ans Meijer, at top, who poses in front of a painting by Dutch painter Frans Hals (photograph by Rafal Milach).
A former hairdresser, Harry now lives at Residential and Care Center Humanitas. —Rafal Milach/Magnum
By looking to the Dutch for fresh, creative and respectful approaches, the future may be brighter for those living with dementia.