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Artist's impression of the upcoming Alzheimer Village in Dax
Artist's impression of the upcoming Alzheimer Village in Dax
Benjamin Witte

Like an elaborate film set, everything about the place may look real — like a typical 1950s town square, for example, or a medieval "bastide" (fortified village). And there are certainly some real aspects to it. The cinema really does show films. The coffee shop really does serve hot drinks.

But it's also a carefully crafted illusion, designed specifically for people who (like Jim Carrey's character in the popular 1998 film The Truman Show) may not be able to tell the difference. That's because the residents suffer from Alzheimer's and others forms of dementia. And the faux "towns' they inhabit are actually treatment centers, designed as an alternative to the more institutional, hospital-like facilities typically used to treat such patients.

These "dementia villages," as they're known, are still few and far between, but the treatment model is catching on, with new projects opening or in the planning stages in a number of different countries. In Dax, a city in southwestern France, a 120-patient village is set to open in late 2019, the French daily Le Monde reports. The facility is expected to cost some 28 million euros to build, plus an additional 7 million euros per year to operate. It is the first such project in France, and will include a supermarket, hair salon, brewery, restaurant and libraries, all around a medieval-style central square.

Landscaping and architectural design plans for Dax village — Photo: NORD Architects Copenhagen via Instagram

The idea, says Professor Jean-Francois Dartiges, neurologist and epidemiologist at CHU Pellegrin in Bordeaux, is that residents will be able to go about their daily activities as normally as possible. "They can continue participating in their social lives," he says.

The Dax "village" takes its inspiration from a similar treatment center in Weesp, Holland, just outside of Amsterdam. The De Hogeweyk home, as it's known, opened in late 2009 and has approximately 152 residents. "People suffering from senile dementia are capable of "operating" quite normally when they are in a normal environment," De Hogeweyk's manager, Jannette Spiering, told Le Monde back in 2013.

It uses tangible prompts from people's pasts.

Unlike the Dutch center, the French facility will also include a research center. By living amongst its residents, researchers will use a comparative approach to measure the impact this kind of treatment model has on dementia patients.

A dementia village in Wiedlisbach, in the Swiss canton of Bern, also followed the De Hogeweyk model, as did a recently opened facility in County Limerick, in Ireland, the Irish Examiner reports. Plans are underway to build a similar center in British Columbia, according to the Canadian daily National Post. And in San Diego, California, a 1950s-themed dementia facility — complete with a 1959 Ford Thunderbird — opened its doors just this past April. Glenner Town Square, as it's known, was built in a warehouse and, unlike its European counterparts, is only open during the day.

"It's very therapeutic for people with dementia," Lisa Tyburski, the facility's director of business development, told the Daily Mail. "Basically what it does is it uses tangible prompts from people's past to bring out memories that are still in there."

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