The French Village Designed to Promote the Well-Being of Alzheimer’s Patients: A Visual Introduction to the Pioneering Experiment

Hav­ing seen first­hand in my own fam­i­ly how dev­as­tat­ing Alzheimer’s dis­ease can be to the suf­fer­er and those who care for them, I acute­ly feel the need for bet­ter social reme­dies than those we cur­rent­ly have. Insti­tu­tion­al­iz­ing rel­a­tives places them at risk of abuse, neglect, or extreme lone­li­ness and anx­i­ety, over and above what they already expe­ri­ence. Rely­ing on fam­i­ly mem­bers can result in high­ly over­stressed care­tak­ers who lack resources, time, and train­ing. In either case, patients and care­tak­ers can end up iso­lat­ed, emo­tion­al­ly over­whelmed, and heav­i­ly reliant on med­ica­tions.

While there is yet no cure for Alzheimer’s and age-relat­ed demen­tia, the good news is that there may soon be a treat­ment that pro­vides suf­fer­ers with care, atten­tion, dig­ni­ty, and gen­er­ous social inter­ac­tion, while also giv­ing researchers humane and eth­i­cal oppor­tu­ni­ties to study the pro­gres­sion of the dis­ease. The not-so-good news is that it might require build­ing an entire vil­lage, com­plete with a super­mar­ket, hair­dress­er, library, gym and oth­er facil­i­ties. But if an exper­i­ment in Dax, in south­west­ern France, proves viable, many oth­er munic­i­pal­i­ties might will­ing­ly shoul­der the expense.

Designed by Cham­pag­nat & Grè­goire Archi­tects and NORD Archi­tects, the 12-acre Vil­lage Landais Alzheimer will cost a hefty $28 mil­lion, reports Newsweek. Curbed quotes the even high­er fig­ure of $34 mil­lion, “pri­mar­i­ly fund­ed by the gov­ern­ment.” Expect­ed to open at the end of 2019, the vil­lage will “house 120 patients, 100 live-in care­tak­ers, 12 vol­un­teers, and a team of researchers who will approach the treat­ment cen­ter as a test­bed for alter­na­tive Alzheimer’s care.” Designed to repli­cate a tra­di­tion­al medieval town com­mon to the area, the exper­i­ment was inspired by a sim­i­lar under­tak­ing in the Nether­lands, in which res­i­dents showed increased well-being and lived longer than expect­ed.

Neu­rol­o­gist and epi­demi­ol­o­gist Jean-François Dar­tigues explains the pur­pose of the vil­lage as main­tain­ing “the par­tic­i­pa­tion of res­i­dents in social life,” a proven fac­tor in slow­ing mem­o­ry loss and improv­ing men­tal health, as stud­ies have shown. The vil­lage will also give res­i­dents a sense of free­dom and con­trol over their envi­ron­ment, while mak­ing sure atten­tive care is on hand at all times, and it will “host trained dogs,” reports the BBC, “to help res­i­dents escape their psy­cho­log­i­cal iso­la­tion.” More­over, “drug treat­ments will be set aside,” along with the side effects of med­ica­tion that can neg­a­tive­ly affect qual­i­ty of life.

The pre­vi­ous exper­i­ment and cur­rent state of the research pre­dict that Vil­lage Landais Alzheimer will be suc­cess­ful in improv­ing the lives of its res­i­dents. While one can imag­ine this idea tak­ing hold among pri­vate investors will­ing to build exclu­sive vil­lages for wealthy patients, the ques­tion is whether coun­tries far less inclined to fund health­care would invest pub­lic resources. Local offi­cials in Dax at least “have promised,” Curbed reports, “to match nurs­ing home fees and make some form of gov­ern­ment assis­tance avail­able so as not to pre­vent poor­er patients from resid­ing in the facil­i­ty.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What’s a Sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly-Proven Way to Improve Your Abil­i­ty to Learn? Get Out and Exer­cise

Dis­cov­er the Retire­ment Home for Elder­ly Musi­cians Cre­at­ed by Giuseppe Ver­di: Cre­at­ed in 1899, It Still Lives On Today

How the Japan­ese Prac­tice of “For­est Bathing”—Or Just Hang­ing Out in the Woods—Can Low­er Stress Lev­els and Fight Dis­ease

The Health Ben­e­fits of Drum­ming: Less Stress, Low­er Blood Pres­sure, Pain Relief, and Altered States of Con­scious­ness

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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