“To me, home is as much about a ‘feeling’ one has, as it is about a ‘place’ where one lives.”

Elroy Jespersen.

When my grandfather was suffering from dementia he asserted, daily, that he wanted to go home. We told him he was home, and we weren’t trying to pull a fast one —he was. Cared for in the house he and my grandmother had lived in for over 50 years.

One night around midnight he woke up, packed a suitcase and snuck out. Walking with the light of the moon, he hit the highway and started heading south. Syracuse NY was the magnet, apple trees and model T’s, the place of his childhood and youth.

When he was picked up a few miles in by the police, he was distraught.

The concept of “Home” is a moving target.

I thought of this when I was reading about The Village – Canada’s first true dementia village: a memory care community in Greater Vancouver based in Langley BC. I loved the idea of The Villagers being able to roam freely and experience “home” without being in a traditional institution or facility.

I spoke to Elroy Jespersen, the Project Leader of The Village, about how the concept of home factored into the planning of The Village and what kind of people they were looking for to care for their Villagers in their new “home.”

How will The Village support people with dementia that is different from traditional long-term care?

The first major difference between The Village and traditional L.T.C, is that The Village is located on just under 7 acres, with the perimeter secured. There is one single, monitored, ‘point of entry’ which allows Villagers to move freely about without encountering locked doors. Six ‘Households’, each providing a ‘home’ for 12 people, make up the housing for The Village. At the front of The Village is our Oakwood Community Center which is the ‘gathering space’ for Villagers and ‘bridge’ between our internal community and the external community. Purposeful outdoor spaces are located throughout The Village, and include a barn with animals, vegetable and flower gardens, an outdoor activity space, a water feature, and a meadow with a butterfly garden. All of the ‘Houses’ and spaces are connected by a pedestrian only ‘main street’ which runs from one end of the Village to the other.

Another difference is the small size of each Household. Built to a residential scale and with residential finishes and furnishings, each House has 12 private bedrooms with full ensuites, a kitchen and dining room, a living room, an activity room, and a sunroom. A dedicated support team works exclusively in each Household, which allows for strong relationships to develop between people living and working in the House. With a deep understanding of each Villager’s needs, wants, and interests, staff can better support each person in having a good day, every day.

A third difference is our primary focus on ‘enriched living’. Even though each person may need significant physical and cognitive support, this is all done in order that each person’s identity is known and honoured; that they remain connected to people and things that matter to them; that they feel both safe and secure and are in control of their day to day activities; that they be given opportunities to learn and grow; are given roles and responsibilities within The Village which provides them with meaning and purpose; and then each person experiences love, laughter and joyful moments.

What does the concept of ‘home’ mean to you – and how did it translate into plans for The Village?

We know that ‘home’ means different things to different people. To me, home is as much about a ‘feeling’ one has, as it is about a ‘place’ where one lives. I think it is a place where one feels safe; a place where one feels valued, understood and affirmed as a person no matter how different or unique your habits and mannerisms; a place where relationships are nurtured and valued; where one doesn’t need to be perfect but just honest, loving and supportive. It is a place where I can live my life ‘my way’ while knowing that by doing so, I can’t impede upon, but must allow space for, others to live their life, their way.

When planning The Village, we tried to incorporate ‘home’ by making the size and scale of each House similar to what one might find in any community. We designed the House to bring people living in it, together, much like a family may gather; around the kitchen table; in the recreation room; on the front porch. Our staff must take the time to get to know each person’s likes and dislikes; their pleasures and annoyances, their habits and routines, and their abilities and disabilities. Once knowing these, they can support each person’s ‘rhythm of day’, allowing each person to live their life, their way. The overall community is small enough where people can move about, connect with their neighbours, and ‘lend a hand’ in helping to make The Village, their home.

What unique challenges did you come across when planning?

We encountered several challenges when planning and developing The Village. Our first challenge was to find a site large enough and at a price that made sense for what we had in mind. It took us about two years to find the site we are now building on. Another challenge was to make sure that the people designing The Village understood that we were trying to create ‘home’ for each person and not designing another ‘health care facility’. As The Village is ‘licensed’ by the BC Health Department, we had to be conscious of all the regulatory requirements. Many of these make sense in a large LTC facility but not so much in The Village. We made several compromises to our original concept, however we feel confident that we did not compromise our principles of ‘home’ and ‘person directed living’.

What sort of recreation activities will be offered/programmed for Villagers?

If we are to honour our principle of ‘person directed living’, it is difficult to plan a comprehensive activity program until we know who the Villagers will be, what their interest and abilities are, and how they would each like to spend their day. Our Oakwood Community Center will plan some ‘core’ programs which we believe might interest many people. For example, several different physical exercise programs, some art activities, some social events, etc. We believe, however, that about 75% of the day to day activities will take place in each Household and will be planned, organized and led by the people who live and work there. Each House will have co- Household Leaders, one of who will have formal training and experience in Recreation Leadership. They will work with other team members and Villagers to organize activities and events throughout the day and week for interested people to participate in. Given our natural outdoor spaces, many activities will be outdoor-oriented.

We will use the concept of ‘Clubs’. Interested Villagers, family members, community volunteers and staff can join together in an activity of interest, to organize , lead and participate in a Club. For example, a Glee Club might be formed to provide an opportunity for people who enjoy singing to join together, practice, and perhaps perform for others. Another example is a Garden Club, where people who may be long time gardeners can participate in planning, planting, and maintaining the various gardens and planters located throughout the Village. Being a member of a Village Club allows each person to contribute to their community as a valued community member.

Can you tell us about The Village ELFS and what skills you would look for when hiring professionals for The Village?

When hiring people to work in The Village, we first look for the ‘right’ people, then the ‘right’ qualifications and skills, and then we set the ‘right’ expectations as to how then would act and interact within The Village. Generally speaking, we believe that the ‘right’ people will have many of the following characteristics;

  • They are ‘called’ to be of service to others.
  • They are passionate about and champion our Vision for the Village.
  • They are empathetic, authentic and humble.
  • They are flexible, collaborative and team oriented.
  • They are creative and also embrace risk.
  • They are lifelong learners.
  • They value relationships and hard work.

While most LTC facilities have ‘Health Care Aides’, we do not. As our primary goal is to provide an ‘enriched living experience’ for each Villager, we have ELFs which is an acronym for Enriched Living Facilitators.

All ELFs will have formal training and certification as a Health Care Worker or Personal Support Worker. This is necessary to ensure that everyone has the skills necessary to provide quality physical care, as required. Each ELF will also be required to have education in supporting people with cognitive limitations.

We also need each ELF to do the right things, in the right way, and at the right time. Our orientation sessions for people who work at The Village will spend considerable time defining what this is. I have in the past said that we need ‘ELFs who act like ANGELS.’

Acting like ANGELS means you:

  • Accept each person and their reality, even though it may differ from your own.
  • Nurture authentic, caring relationships with each person to their own ‘Good Day’.
  • Engage the body, mind and spirit.
  • Listen with your whole body; your ears, eyes, head, and especially your heart.
  • Serve others and their needs before your own self-interests.

Thanks for the great vision, Elroy!

Click here to read more about The Village.

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