Village plan to lead the world in dementia care

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The Neighbourhood Canberra board member Greg Fraser and chair Luisa Capezio… “This will put Canberra on the world map as far as dementia care goes,” says Mr Fraser. Photo: Belinda Strahorn

CANBERRA could be home to what is being touted as a “world first” village designed specifically for people with dementia.

As well as 15 tailored houses, The Neighbourhood Canberra will have a supermarket, cinema, cafe, hairdresser and gardens.

The $40 million project will offer 24-hour care for people living with dementia, in a “multi-generational” residential environment that integrates with the local community.

Greg Fraser, a former ACT Health chief executive and board member of The Neighbourhood Canberra, said the soon to be launched concept was revolutionary and would transform dementia care.

Mr Fraser said research had shown entering an aged-care facility could create stress and accelerate the rate of decline for those with dementia.

“Lots of organisations have dementia wards, but it’s usually a locked wing and so there is very little engagement with the rest of the world,” said Mr Fraser.

“There’s a lot of evidence to suggest there is an overprescription of psychotropic drugs to dope them [clients] up. The Royal Commission has been critical of that approach. 

“There’s a lot of evidence that says a small village-like domestic environment is the best and people do well in that environment.

“And that’s what we are trying to achieve with The Neighbourhood. This will put Canberra on the world map as far as dementia care goes.”

Nearly half a million Australians live with dementia, and that number is predicted to more than double by 2058.

There are more than 6000 dementia sufferers in Canberra and its prevalence is rising.

With an influx of dementia cases and a lack of beds in the ACT, it’s hoped The Neighbourhood will fill a gap in the delivery of services, said Luisa Capezio, board chair of The Neighbourhood Canberra.

“There is a current undersupply of 569 beds for people who need 24-hour residential care and by 2023 that deficit will be 693 beds,” Ms Capezio said. 

“The reality is half the people who are in permanent residential aged care have a diagnosis of dementia so this will fill a massive deficit in Canberra.”

The Neighbourhood is modelled on De Hogeweyk village in the Netherlands, where residents have been found to live longer and take fewer medications.

The ACT village, one hectare in size, will cater for 90 residents in 15 homes of six people, but will be open to the community to come and go.

It will be designed specifically for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia who need 24-hour residential care, an option that is not currently available in the ACT.

“The homes will have bedrooms and ensuites, a kitchen, living areas, a dining room and lots of spaces to join in together as a community or to have time on your own; the carer will also be integrated in that model, but they won’t be wearing uniforms,” Mr Fraser said.

“We are looking to co-locate the facility to ensure it’s built in an area where people in that village can use services like a hairdresser, cafe, a medical centre, library and supermarket, all the things you use day to day to maintain a level of normality. Those services will also be available to the wider community to use.

“In short it’s a dementia-friendly community ensuring that people within it have true connections and are not isolated.”

Building on the success of the ABC TV series “Old People’s Home for 4 year-olds”, The Neighbourhood is designed to ease the transition from independent living into high-level care.

A key part of that is trying to replicate a normal family existence with intergenerational relationships.

“It’s how we live day to day; we don’t live just with one age group, we grow up with our grandparents, our parents and with children,” said Ms Capezio.

“By nature we grow within an intergenerational network, so why just because you have a diagnosis of dementia should that be taken away.

“The idea is also to have The Neighbourhood co-located with a daycare centre and a primary school and if that concept does come to fruition it will be a world first in terms of true intergenerational connection.”

The Neighbourhood Canberra will be officially launched on Sunday, February 28, at Dementia Australia’s Memory Walk and Jog around Lake Burley Griffin.

The launch is timely as it coincides with the final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care being handed down. 

“All of the evidence is showing you get a better quality of life being in a home and that has a knock-on effect to everything, like less drugs and less hospitalisation, less visits to GPs and less staff turnover,” said Ms Capezio.

The organisers plan to have the project federally funded, with an aged-care provider delivering the service.

The board is currently looking at various locations across Canberra for the development.

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