It’s rush hour at the grocery store. Martine and Christine, volunteers, chat with their clients. Bread, salad, dairy products… shopping list in hand, Marie-Christiane crosses off the items as Yves places them in their Shopping Cart. In front of the refrigerators, it’s disappointment for the two inhabitants of house 6. No camembert this morning. The complaint reaches the ears of Gaël, the chef, in the middle of preparing meals. “We always try to respond to the desires of the villagers,” confides Martine, while Gaël disappears into storage to look for the coveted cheese.
Life “as it really is”
This scene from life does not come from a holiday film. It takes place at the Alzheimer Village, an establishment welcoming 120 patients with loss of autonomy in Dax, in the Landes. Launched in 2020, the experiment adapts for the first time in France a concept born in the Netherlands. Patients are taken from the medical context of nursing homes and placed in an environment where the places and interactions are as ordinary as possible.
“As the aging of the French population accelerates, the care of people with cognitive disorders represents a major public health challenge,” warns Mathilde Charon-Burnel, Major Social and Medico-Social Projects Project Manager at the departmental council. Lands. There will be nearly two million in 2050.” In Dax, doctors, nurses, psychologists and counselors support patients throughout their days. A team of five researchers from Inserm (National Institute of Health and Medical Research) are studying this model in order to make it reproducible.
The village includes homes, a restaurant, a supermarket, a hairdresser, a gym, a mini farm, a media library, as well as an enclosed and secure green park inviting you to take a walk. The inhabitants lead a normal life, as they become independent, and move around as they please.
Bernard, straw hat on his head, paces on the bridge over the pond. Wandering soothes his anxieties. “The external and internal environment is designed to allow them this freedom and to give them guidelines: we support the effects of the illness, rather than aggravating them by fighting them,” explains Gaëlle Marie-Bailleul, referring doctor and psychogeriatrician. And if Bernard no longer knows where he is, his concern will quickly be spotted by an employee, still in civilian clothes, or a volunteer who will accompany him to one of the sixteen households.
In the large kitchen of house 3, Nathalie Saint-Girons and Céline Millau, the two managers of the place, prepare lunch with Maryse. Earlier this morning, everyone got up and prepared their breakfast, at their own pace and to the extent of their autonomy. “Here, we have time to chat, have a coffee, give showers and treatments without rushing the residents,” enthuse the socio-beautician and the caregiver. Their proximity to the seven inhabitants of the house allows them to quickly identify drops in morale, pain and loss of autonomy.
Personalized support and multidisciplinary monitoring, with a doctor, psychologist and psychomotor therapist present on a daily basis, prevent the decline in cognitive abilities, the overall deterioration of health and the increase in mortality usually observed during the six months following entry into institution. “We notice a virtual absence of hospitalizations for behavioral disorders, anxiety and depression, where they are numerous in other types of establishments,” testifies Mathilde Charon-Burnel.
Near the pond, Maïté, 87 years old, stands still in front of the donkeys. “Two white donkeys, one black,” she repeats over and over. “From now on, mom is in her world, without discussion possible,” admits her daughter Régine. But since she lives here, we are reassured. » The first results of Inserm researchers are clear: arrival in the village truly relieves families, relieved of stress, of responsibility for the safety and well-being of their loved one, but also of the guilt which often goes along with institutional placement. The experiment is beginning to spread in France: in Brittany, Champagne and Martinique.
The Alzheimer Village’s recipes for success
- An adjusted price. For residents, the price amounts to around €2,000/month (€250 remains to be paid for those on the lowest incomes). In terms of care, the Regional Health Agency pays €7/day, instead of €5. What finances a professional for a resident.
- Precise tracking. Research, like that of Inserm, aims to evaluate what the innovations brought about by this experiment bring to patients, families and professionals.
- A national issue. In France, 900,000 people suffer from a neurodegenerative disease. This number is expected to double in 2050, according to Vaincre Alzheimer.