Dr. Murali Doraiswamy, chief of biological psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., said the idea could be "a game changer" in Alzheimer's care.
"The old saying, 'Treat the person and not the disease' is particularly true in end-stage dementia," he said. "All of us might actually then look forward to getting old!"
While Hogewey might be the most elaborate village-inspired nursing home, it's not the first. In fact Towsley Village Memory Care Center in Chelsea, Mich., is home to 100 dementia patients living in four distinct neighborhoods, complete with 50s-style coffee shops.
"Facilities in the U.S. have had these villages since the mid-1980s," said Geri Hall, a clinical nurse specialist at the Banner Alzheimer's Institute in Phoenix, Ariz. "The biggest practical challenge is that it requires space and special construction, potentially increasing the cost of care. I can't see many American facilities using nurses at a cash register. There are so few [registered nurses] in long-term care, they are pretty busy."
But even small-scale adjustments, like having furniture and entertainment from the familiar decades, can help Alzheimer's patients feel more at home.
"The 'deception' is really adjusting our reality to allow the person with dementia to be in a place that is comforting and safe," said Cynthia Barton, a nurse practitioner at the University of California at San Francisco's Memory and Aging Center. "It is unrealistic to think that they will be able to retain new information or remember our repeated attempts to correct them, so we emphasize strategies to make people feel safe and well cared for."
Barton said she wishes there was a place like Hogewey for her aunt, who currently lives in a nursing home in Connecticut.
"I'd love for her to be able to live in a facility like this that would so much more appropriately meet her needs," she said.