The Village Where Everyone Has Alzheimer's

Text and photos by Markel Redondo/Panos Pictures
Abridged by Syharn Shen (沈思含)

The Village Where Everyone Has Alzheimer's

Text and photos by Markel Redondo/Panos Pictures
Abridged by Syharn Shen (沈思含)

In southwestern France, residents of Village Landais Alzheimer are taking aerobics classes tailored to the needs of those with dementia. This Dutch-inspired village provides a nurturing home where the elderly with Alzheimer's can live fulfilling lives with dignity.

Activities, including exercise and dance classes, are tailored to the residents' needs at Village Landais Alzheimer.

In Village Landais, a unique community in Dax, south-west France, Alzheimer's sufferers reclaim freedoms stolen by the illness. Here, residents engage in daily activities like shopping, which helps maintain their independence and connects them to their past lives. Francis Lalane, 72, exemplifies this autonomy as he confidently navigates the village's supermarket with his neighbor Véronique, demonstrating the therapeutic value of such routines.

Village Landais, conceived by the late Henri Emmanuelli, a former deputy of Landes, was inspired by similar initiatives in the Netherlands. The village is designed as an alternative to traditional care homes, offering a resort-like environment where residents can live as independently as possible. The village, spanning 17 acres and costing over €28 million, opened in June 2020 and houses 120 residents with varying degrees of Alzheimer's.

Mathilde Charon-Burnel, the village's communications director, explains that daily activities like shopping serve as both a physical and mental exercise for the residents. This approach allows them to maintain a semblance of their previous lives and provides insight into their coping mechanisms. "It's quite simple," says Francis, emphasizing the importance of engaging with the outside world to truly live.

A resident enjoys time in the library at Village Landais Alzheimer.

Village Landais is designed to foster autonomy in a safe environment. Residents can walk freely, visit the library, shop, get their hair cut, or enjoy a coffee with friends, all while being gently supported by a team of caregivers, volunteers, and medical staff. This setup reduces the need for anxiety and depression medications, significantly improving the residents' quality of life.

Gaëlle Marie-Bailleul, the medical coordinator and a specialist in geriatric psychiatry, notes the positive impact of this holistic approach. She observes that family members report significant improvements in their loved ones' mood and communication skills within weeks of their arrival. This success is attributed to the village's peaceful yet stimulating environment, which alleviates symptoms and enhances well-being.

Living in Village Landais costs €65.42 per day, or around €2,000 monthly. This fee covers all living expenses, activities, and round-the-clock medical and psychological support. The village's inclusivity extends to means-tested fees, ensuring affordability for residents with limited financial resources.

A nurse and a resident stroll together outside in the grounds of Village Landais Alzheimer.

The village employs over 120 staff and volunteers, creating a high caregiver-to-resident ratio. This setup allows for personalized care and companionship, essential for residents' well-being. Unlike typical medical environments, Village Landais avoids hierarchical structures and uniforms, fostering a sense of equality and community.

Residents live in small houses with up to 11 others, each designed with Alzheimer's needs in mind. The houses are single-story, light-filled, and homely, with adaptable features like removable mirrors to prevent distress. Nathalie Viard, one of the house's carers, emphasizes that residents live at their own pace, enjoying the freedom to engage in activities as they wish.

The village also includes unique therapy tools, like a stationary train carriage in the library where residents can watch footage of rolling countryside, providing a calming sense of movement. This therapeutic environment helps reduce anxiety and improve overall well-being.

A detailed drawing adorns the door of a resident's flat at Village Landais Alzheimer.

Visitors are integral to the village's community. Family members often stay in available rooms to spend quality time with their loved ones, participating in activities and sharing meals. This support system extends the village's ethos of kindness and companionship.

Francis, who moved to Village Landais due to the progression of his illness, shares his home with 11 others. The communal areas are designed to be open and welcoming, with personal touches like photos and trinkets signaling individual rooms. This personalized environment helps maintain residents' self-esteem and identity.

Ultimately, Village Landais offers a model of dementia care that prioritizes autonomy, community, and quality of life. As Marie-Bailleul reflects, the goal is not just to extend life but to enrich it, ensuring residents live with dignity and joy until the end.

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