There are currently no treatments that can effectively prevent, slow, or reverse the progressive neurological decline caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, recent research has suggested that our long-standing theory of how the disease causes brain cell damage and death is either fundamentally off the mark or seriously lacking.
So what should doctors and family members do to help the estimated 30 to 40 million people living with Alzheimer’s worldwide?
One of the few things we do know about dementia is that staying social and engaged with one’s environment is associated with better psychological and cognitive outcomes. Based upon that insight, the regional government of Landes, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, in southwestern France is creating the nation’s first residential village dedicated to letting Alzheimer’s patients live as independently as possible while still having access to specialized care.
The ambitious community’s real-life mimicking model is inspired by the pioneering Dutch village of Hogeweyk, which has observed improved quality of life and reduced reliance on medication in its residents, compared with those at standard dementia care centers, since it opened in 2013.
Construction on the 12-acre gated facility, designed to resemble the walled bastide settlements that cropped up in the surrounding countryside during the Middle Ages, began this week outside the township of Dax and is expected to cost 24 million euros ($28 million). Village Landais, as it will be known, is slated to open its doors to 120 qualifying locals in need of care – including those that need financial assistance – in 2019.
According to an informational video, Landais will consist of small, customizable shared homes, shops, activity rooms, a restaurant, salon, gym, and small farm, all centered around a main town square and connected by intuitive walkways. Facility architect Nathalie Grégoire explained to The Telegraph that the non-restrictive layout is meant to support residents’ sense of direction, visual bearings, and memory.
“There won’t be any white coats in the village,” Gabriel Bellocq, the former mayor of Dax told Le Parisien. “We wanted the patients to feel at home in an environment that could remind them of life in the good old days.
Instead, 200-plus caregivers and staff will reside full-time alongside the patients – and remain dressed in plainclothes. Researchers will also live at Village Landais in order to analyze how the new therapeutic approach impacts both objective and subjective aspects of living with Alzheimer’s.
"This is an experiment, validated by the Regional Agency of Health and the Ministry of Health, which intends to use this village to study the evolution of the disease outside the medical environment," Bellocq told Europe1.