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The purpose built village which will be a home for Alzheimer's patients

Artist's impression of the Alzheimer's village in Dax.
Artist's impression of the Alzheimer's village in Dax. / SUR
  • A special community is being built for 120 Alzheimer's sufferers and their carers in France, and it will be a landmark in the treatment of the illness

If all goes according to plan, by the end of 2019 the French town of Dax will make history by becoming the second place on the planet with a type of commune for Alzheimer's sufferers. It will have a community of 120 patients, living in a place which bears no, or practically no, resemblance to the special centres we are used to seeing.

In this 'Alzheimer's village', just over 100 professionals including doctors, nurses, gerontological assistants, psychologists and psychotherapists, will look after the patients, and it is the fulfilment of the great dream of the late Henri Emmanuelli.

The President of the French National Assembly, and several times Secretary of State with Mitterand, as well as being head of the Department of the Landes for 35 years, Emmanuelli dedicated his later life to bringing this project to fruition; it was inspired by the Dutch Weesp model, which was created in 2009.

The objective, say those who have taken over from this famous socialist politician, is to enable people with dementia to have an ordinary social life for as long as possible, with no white coats in sight, but they will still have to take their medication.

Independence

The village will be organised as a type of country house, with a huge lobby containing communal rooms and services such as hairdresser, supermarket, restaurant and doctor's surgery. The site, which will cover just over five hectares, will be divided into four districts, each with eight homes with room for seven or eight patients.

The Alzheimer's village was born with the idea of being a place of innovation and a benchmark for other institutions and companies which provide services to people who have lost their memory and, with it, their signs of identity. In fact, a collaboration agreement has already been signed with the Faculty of Medicine in Bordeaux so that Daz will be an experimental centre where non-pharmacological methods to treat patients will be evaluated. Around 50 million people worldwide suffer from Alzheimer's, and if predictions by scientists are correct, by 2050 the number will have risen to 130 million.

"What we will do," explains Jean François Dartigues, one of the neurologists who will run the centre, "is compare the effects of living like this with the evolution of patients who are treated in conventional centres".

In Spain, professionals such as Pascual Sánchez Juan, director of the Cognitive Deterioration Unit at the Valdecilla hospital in Santander, think the idea is fantastic.

"It is the ideal form of treatment, because it wants to help patients live as independently as possible for as long as possible. Normally, with dementia cases, the families want to protect their relative so they stop them doing things and keep them indoors, and that is bad for the brain. Just like with any other muscle, if you don't use it then it deteriorates faster," he says.

He admits, however, that in Spain there are important limitations when considering aspiring to something similar, because for a start there is no National Dementia Plan here as there is in other countries, and of course there is the matter of money.

"Regrettably, all this sounds like something out of science fiction for us at the moment. We ought to make efforts to explain to society that we are looking at an illness which already costs the authorities more than any heart condition or cancer," Dr Sánchez Juan points out.

The Dax project will cost 28 million euros, and there will be annual running costs of nearly seven million. The cost per patient is 60 euros a day, which is equivalent to a traditional nursing home.