Imagine a five-acre mini-town designed specifically for people with dementia, where residents could safely take unaccompanied walks, do their grocery shopping, get a hair cut or stop by the local cafe.
And all of the people they met along the way — shop attendants, hairdressers, baristas — would be trained in basic dementia care.
It’s a bold proposal that a small, rural public hospital in Victoria is pushing, to have an entire township built for people with dementia.
Based on a successful Dutch model, the facility would not feel or look like an institution, but rather mimic a tiny country town.
The proposal for the dementia village in Heathcote, 45 kilometres south-east of Bendigo, has won the support of the state government, which contributed $150,000 towards a feasibility study.
The committee behind the proposal says the village would greatly enhance the lives of those living with dementia, a brain disorder that has no cure, affects more than 413,000 people across the country and has recently become the leading cause of death among Australian women.
The village would also create a sustainable economic model for Heathcote, injecting an estimated $15 million into the local economy each year.
The idea was first floated in 2014 when staff at Heathcote Health’s 42-bed aged care ward were caring for a cluster of patients with severe dementia.
Hospital chief executive Dan Douglass was faced with an enormous challenge. One woman was swallowing any object she could get her hands on. A man had developed sexual inhibitions and was behaving inappropriately around female residents, staff and visitors.
“We had another gentleman that was suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome from the war and that played out in his dementia in that everything had to be very, very quiet around him,” recalled Mr Douglass.
“We tried to see if we could relocate those residents to more suitable accommodation, and we found it was almost impossible to do so.”
At a board meeting, Mr Douglass asked his colleagues what they would do “if they had a magic wand”. A local pharmacist piped up. She would build a dementia village in Australia, right there in Heathcote.
The facility would be specifically designed for dementia patients, unlike traditional aged-care facilities. And, importantly, it would be a restraint-free environment.
“Confusion is a key issue for people with dementia,” Mr Douglass said. Busy, noisy spaces where everything looked similar could agitate residents.
“For example, certain colours or patterns might look like insects so they might think insects are running all over the place,” he said. “Or if you’re walking around the facility and there’s ten doors that look the same, how do they know which one is their room?”
Confusion can lead to aggravation, which often results in violence towards staff, and chemical or physical restraints.
“They don’t understand what they’re doing,” Mr Douglass said. “If they get frustrated, they hit out.
“The idea of the dementia village concept is that they would be in more home-like surrounds.”
Six to eight residents would live in a building that was tailored to suit their background. For example, if they were a farmer, they might live with other residents from rural areas.
The residents can sleep, wake and eat when they choose, and are free to walk around the village on their own.
“They feel like they’re having a normal day,” Mr Douglass said. “They don’t realise they are in a facility, they think they are at home.”
“It’s not rocket science.”
Steven Abbott, manager of Bendigo council’s community partnerships, said Heathcote was ideally located because it was close to Melbourne, Bendigo and rural areas. He said the village could be expanded to include the township.
“As it develops and evolves over time, we want the Heathcote friendliness to actually branch out and for the Heathcote community itself to be fully dementia-friendly.”
Tasmania recently announced plans for Australia’s first dementia village in Glenorchy, a $25 million complex expected to open in 18 months.
Heathcote’s village would be different in several ways, Mr Abbott said. Firstly, it would be bigger, housing 150 patients and employing more than 200 staff, with an estimated building cost of $60 million.
It would also aim to expand to include the entire local community, as well as partner with rural and agriculture enterprises.
There are also plans to include a $25 million research facility on site, an idea that has universities lining up to be involved.
The committee needs to raise another $120,000 to fund business and concept planning, and have requested financial support from the federal government.
“If the feasibility study comes back positive, then we’re very excited this will be a real game changer for Australia,” Mr Douglass said.
This article first appeared on Domain at https://www.domain.com.au/news/heathcote-health-in-central-victoria-puts-forward-proposal-for-township-for-dementia-patients-20170930-gyqf24/.