Above: Brittany Hengstler, M.Ed., BCBA
One of the most innovate approaches to senior care has come from a Dutch senior living community called Hogeweyk. Hogeweyk has received international attention for its unique model of care and has helped define the future of senior living. Comprised of a village of 23 houses, which only 6 residents reside in a more intimate environment. The Hogeweyk concept is described on their website as a place where “residents recognize each other based on their activities, life experiences and interests, living a lifestyle, just like before.” Hogeweyk offers its dementia-suffering inhabitants maximum privacy and autonomy.” Hogeweyk’s innovations have altered the landscape of senior care; yet, what ultimately sets Hogeweyk apart is its commitment to providing a high quality of life for it’s residents in a place that is uniquely suited to the needs of each individual person, and this is a concept that is not unique to Hogeweyk alone.
One of Coachella Valley’s most respected Residential Care Facilities, Desert Cottages, has been operating under this model for the last 10 years. The success of Desert Cottages, like Hogeweyk, is due in large part to its emphasis on sustaining physical and mental activity, encouraging socialization, providing comprehensive and customized care, preserving dignity, creating a comfortable, home-like living environment, and advocating for small, 6-bed living accommodations. In an interview with ABC News in 2012, the director of Vanderbilt University’s Center for Cognitive Medicine, Dr. Paul Newhouse, explained that “environmental approaches to reducing both cognitive and behavioral problems associated with dementia are really the key to improving quality of life for these patients without excess medication.” Addressing behavioral and cognitive problems through the use of different environmental approaches has not only set Desert Cottages apart as a residential care facility, but has also dramatically improved the lives of many Desert Cottages’ residents by reducing their need for medication.
Desert Cottages, like Hogeweyk, also celebrates the personal identities of is residents and creates an environment that provides for the mental, physical, and emotional needs of its residents—a concept otherwise known as “narrative reality”. Psychologist Donald Spence defines the concept of “narrative reality” as the ways in which stories and places help link the “true” world to one that a person is better able to understand, using storytelling as a vehicle to understand the truth—you’re in a place that’s holistically normal, you’re not lost, etc. Essentially, by creating surroundings that a resident can understand and identify with, they are more likely to feel comfortable and at ease. For example, many memory-impaired residents believe themselves to be living in past decades, so instead of forcing these residents into the reality of the present, they live in surroundings that are specially designed to help them better adjust to and understand the world around them. Through the use of décor, activities, and entertainment, Desert Cottages creates an environment that feels like home.
On a larger scale, the emphasis on creating a more “home-like”, “person-centered” environment has precipitated the growth of what are known in the senior living industry as “6 bed” houses. Desert Cottages advocates for the “6 bed” model of care, as studies have shown the effectiveness of providing care to seniors in a smaller group setting (1). These “6 bed” homes offer seniors living accommodations with smaller and more intimate groups of people, housing a maximum of 6 seniors at any time. As opposed to larger senior living facilities, which house dozens of seniors and can have low direct care staff to resident ratios (e.g., 1:20), “6 bed” houses offer personalized care with an emphasis on socialization within a small community, providing a much higher staff to resident ratio of about 1:6. Additionally, Desert Cottages takes the concept of personalized care even further by allowing residents to “age in place”. With 3 different homes, each home provides care to its residents based on their level of need—i.e. homes for “mild”, “moderate”, and “severe” cognitive impairment. As a resident ages or begins to decline, he is able to stay in a familiar setting with familiar faces, transitioning to one of Desert Cottages 3 homes, ultimately providing continuity of care by meeting the needs of each resident in an individualized way.
With a mission to provide the highest quality of care to its residents, using an innovative and individualized model of care, Desert Cottages stands out as one of the most respected and recognized assisted living facilities in the Coachella Valley. It is through a commitment to its residents that Desert Cottages offers some of the best care in senior living and continues to be a pioneer in paving the future for memory care.
- Judith M. Mitchell, Bryan J. Kemp; Quality of Life in Assisted Living Homes: A Multidimensional Analysis. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 2000; 55 (2): P117-P127. doi: 10.1093/geronb/55.2.P117