When I first saw the CNN special on a unique home for seniors with dementia in the Netherlands, I thought about my great-aunt Carole. She spent the last several years of her life living with dementia after surviving brain cancer.
She lived in a long-term care home that felt unhappy. Everyone seemed to be in dire health, highly dependent on over-worked staff. Carole's older family members didn't enjoy visiting her there because it scared them. They were scared that they would become that vulnerable one day.
The symptoms of dementia can be very distressing for friends and family, who feel like they are losing the person they once knew to a slow death. Imagine what it's like to live with those symptoms within you, how confusing and shameful the changes to your brain and body must feel.
But there are ways to live with dementia that can help everyone cope better.
In the Netherlands, this home for residents with severe dementia is built up like a community that has many familiar things. Things like grocery stores and hairdressers, services that allow residents to feel at home. No actual money is exchanged.
As one young social worker says in the video, “they can be human. They’re still a person. They can do whatever they like.” This must be very comforting to people, many of whom are in their 80s, with such advanced dementia that, according to the worker, "where are my parents?" is a daily question.
While aging with dementia is never easy, having more homes modeled after the one profiled here would go a long way towards making the condition bearable, both for those living with it and their families.