'Dementiaville' to create '50s feel

ITS detractors may end up dubbing it "Dementiaville", but Switzerland is brushing aside a debate raging among geriatric-care experts with plans to build a mock-1950s village catering exclusively for elderly sufferers of Alzheimer's and other debilitating mental illnesses.

The newly approved €20 million ($32 million) housing project is to be built next to the Swiss village of Wiedlisbach near Bern and will provide sheltered accommodation and care for 150 elderly dementia patients in 23 purpose-built 1950s-style houses. The homes will be deliberately designed to recreate the atmosphere of times past.

The scheme's promoters said there will be no closed doors and residents will be free to move about. To reinforce an atmosphere of normality, the carers will dress as gardeners, hairdressers and shop assistants. The only catch is that Wiedlisbach's inhabitants will not be allowed to leave the village.

A similar pioneering, yet controversial, approach to geriatric mental care is already under way in Holland, where the Hogewey nursing home for dementia sufferers was set up in an Amsterdam suburb in 2009. Its residents pay €5000 a month to live in a world of carefully staged illusion.

Markus Vgtlin, the Swiss entrepreneur behind the Wiedlisbach scheme, visited Hogewey before launching his own project and is full of enthusiasm for the Dutch approach. "People with dementia are often restless and aggressive, but at Hogewey they were relaxed and content," Vgtlin told Switzerland's Tages-Anzeiger newspaper.

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Topics:  alzheimer's mental illness old age

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