LES ECHOS

The 'Alzheimer Village' Treatment Model Starts To Take Root

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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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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