“The Truman Show” for Dementia Sufferers

By Shlomo Maital


      In the 1998 move “The Truman Show” starring Jim Carrey,  an insurance salesman discovers his entire life is actually a TV show.  Innovative Dutch have now used the idea to help care for those suffering from dementia, in a village near Amsterdam, called Hogeway.    A dementia care home there is experimenting with a new way of treating patients by offering them an “alternative reality”.

   Dementia is a huge worldwide problem.   The world is aging; by 2050 nearly one person in every four will be over 65.   There are an estimated 35.6 million people with dementia worldwide, a number that will nearly double every 20 years, to an estimated 65.7 million in 2030, and 115.4 million in 2050.   

According to the BBC,  Director of Innovation and co-founder Yvonne van Amerongen has created in Hogeway apartments for those with severe dementia, built around a square.  There are 152 residents. Each flat has  6-7 people  …urban life is patterned on old Amsterdam, recreating an environment people were used to before they got dementia.   “If you’re in a hospital  surrounding, those with dementia think every day, I want to look for my home, I don’t need to be in a hospital. Here at Hogeway people are at home.   There is a  village grocery store –  an ordinary store, where the residents come to shop, it is a bit different, because if residents pick up a bottle of wine and leave without paying for it,  the caregivers simply charge the residents’ account.  There are many social activities and above all,  a sense of normal life, with all-important social interaction.  Today for example there is a flower fair.”

What is the evidence this environment is better?  “Part of what happens here has been researched. Exercise is very good for people with dementia. We provide a lot of exercise, because people walk around all day and they get fresh air in the courtyard.  It is a controlled environment, but a familiar one.”  Is there an ethical dilemma, deceiving people?  “We’re not deceiving people, we’re helping them understand where they are.  Real life outside Hogeway is disturbing, they don’t understand it.  People with dementia have trouble coping with the truth.  They cannot understand it.  Here they can.”  

   The Cost?  It is the same as for an ordinary nursing home. 

   Perhaps this model will spread elsewhere?