AUSTRALIA’S first village for people living with dementia is being built in Tasmania, and the project is being closely watched to see if it could be a “beacon” for aged-care design in the future.
Site works have started on “Korongee” – transforming a recently derelict site at Glenorchy, in Hobart’s north, into a cluster of small houses, and a commercial hub featuring a café, supermarket, beauty salon and gardens.
With dementia now described as the most important health issue of the century, the project is receiving funding from industry superannuation fund HESTA, it is managed by Social Ventures Australia, and is being built with some Federal Government assistance.
“Korongee returns to the simple home truths of ‘it takes a village’, pushing the boundaries in terms of doing something innovative and different in aged care,” aged-care provider Glenview Community Services chief executive officer Lucy O’Flaherty said.
One of the key elements of the village design is the small-house model, a concept that was devised in Holland 25 years ago and was slow to take off across Europe.
The first dementia village, Hogeweyk, near Amsterdam, was built in 2009, and its inhabitants live in shared houses.
It has all the community features that Korongee is aiming for.
“A lot of nursing homes are based on a medical approach,” Frank van Dillen, who is co-founder of Dementia Village Advisors (DVA) and one of the architects who designed Hogeweyk, said.
“We try to de-institutionalise that approach because people want to live as normally as possible.”
So there is care and medication, but also everyday activities: “You want to go to a restaurant, do your own grocery shopping, sit in a bar, walk outside and meet people.”
DVA employs specially trained staff who are taught not to “treat” patients, but to care for them.
Of course special care costs more. Residents pay about $7700 per month to live at Hogeweyk.
Only now is DVA building a second village in Kent, England.
It will have 4000 homes and all the village-like shops around a square, gardens and even a bar.
Korongee follows its own village design “based on a typical Tasmanian streetscape”.
Ms O’Flaherty said the Korongee design would make it possible for residents living with dementia to walk around the village and participate in everyday life decisions which were presently not always available to those in traditional, residential-based dementia care.
“In addition to the commercial hub, Korongee will consist of 12 houses, each with eight bedrooms which will be staffed by care professionals who will help reinforce the authentic home-like environment,” she said.
Glenview commissioned The University of Tasmania to undertake work in creating a tool based on evidence to enable a matching of individuals and the type of house they move into.
This is based on values, demography and a range of other factors.
“Creating an authentic environment is the key to this cutting-edge model, with residents within each house to be matched by their similar backgrounds, experiences, interests and skills,” Ms O’Flaherty said.
Korongee will be imbedded in the wider community, and that will offer benefits too – social engagement, job creation and education opportunities.
One of the main questions about the project is whether it could be a sustainable model for similar villages elsewhere in Australia, with 400,000 people currently living with dementia, and the number expected to escalate to more than a million Australians in the next three decades.
Dementia is the single greatest cause of disability in Australians over the age of 65 years, and the third leading cause of disability burden overall.
Wicking Dementia and Research Centre director James Vickers said dementia would have “tremendous impacts across our society”.
“It is vitally important to reconfigure our approach to care in order to meet the needs, as well as support the dignity and autonomy, of people living with dementia now and into the future,” he said.
“The built environment and the way we provide support and care have significant effects on personal wellbeing, as well as the progression of dementia, and so the Korongee model is a vital development and will be an internationally leading beacon for innovation in aged and dementia care.”