In 2009, a nursing home opened in Weesp, Netherlands, not far from Amsterdam, that was unlike any other in the world. It included a town square, a post office, and a theater. In its compact convenience store, residents could “shop” for milk, shampoo, and other necessities, but without the need to pay for anything. In this neighborhood, called Hogeweyk, all of the residents had dementia, and their environment was designed to allow them the quotidian pleasures of daily life, despite the illness that likely would have landed them in a hospital-like ward at a traditional nursing facility.
In its early days, the remarkable care home was profiled on CNN. It has hosted TV crews and journalists many times since, and its founders have given talks at TED conferences and elsewhere about the philosophical concepts behind the project.
Elroy Jespersen of Richmond, British Columbia, remembers seeing Hogewey co-founder Eloy van Hal speak in Canada. “Everybody said, ‘Oh, great, great. Let’s go. We need those. We should do those.’ And nothing happened,” he recalls. He already knew from experience how difficult it could be to find a suitable living arrangement for people with dementia—he had been an operations executive at Verve, a Canadian-based seniors housing company, and he could see his wife’s aunt suffering from Alzheimer’s without a space that could support her. “At the end of the day, I was in the business, and I knew all of the options and I couldn’t find a place, because there was no place,” he says.