A memory care assisted living community is designed to meet the unique safety and care needs of the ever-growing demographic of seniors living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. These specialized memory care retirement communities are increasing in number across the country, and around the world. But many of these communities aren’t the “nursing home”-type setting you may be picturing.

Some of today’s memory care assisted living communities and adult day care programs for people with dementia are finding truly innovative ways to provide more person-centric care in a comforting (and comfortable) setting that feels just like home.

The growing need for memory care assisted living

The term “dementia” is an overarching term for numerous diseases that impact memory, cognition, and the ability to perform day-to-day activities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, impacting an estimated 6.7 million Americans who are 65 or older.

The number of people with dementia are growing, in large part because the world’s population is increasing and also because a larger percentage of the population is elderly. According to data from Alzheimer’s Disease International, a nonprofit global coalition of Alzheimer and dementia organizations, there are more than 55 million people in the world living with dementia. What’s more, the organization projects that number will grow to 139 million by 2050.

>> Related: What is Memory Care and What Are the Odds I Might Need It?

Groundbreaking memory care villages

So, how will family members — and we as a society — care for the many people who currently have or will develop dementia? We know that as most people age, they want to remain in their home and their community for as long as they safely can, and the same is true of many people with dementia.

It is this emphasis of “home” and “community” that has served as the inspiration for a new memory care assisted living model being adopted in the suburbs of several European and Australian cities.

Essentially, this type of specialized memory care retirement community or “dementia village” functions as a micro-community or a micro-town within the community at-large, normalizing life for people who have been diagnosed with dementia. Perhaps the most famous of these dementia villages is Hogeweyk, which is located in the Amsterdam suburb of Weesp, Netherlands. Established in 2009, the four-acre village has been called a “paradigm shifter” within the memory care assisted living space.

Funded by the Dutch government, Hogeweyk has 188 residents living in 27 houses, each of which has a kitchen, living room, laundry room, and private bedrooms and is staffed 24/7 by professional caregivers. But step outside the front door of each of these homes and you will find all of the businesses and elements that a typical Dutch village would have: a grocery store, a theater, a main street, cafes and pubs, a salon, a town square. The key difference is that each of these businesses is staffed by people specially trained in caring for those with memory issues.

What’s more, not only are family members welcome to visit this special village and all of its businesses, so are members of the broader community. By inviting the nearby neighbors to commingle with Hogeweyk residents, the village’s founders hope to lessen the stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

>> Related: Alternative Therapies Being Explored to Ease Dementia Symptoms

A new type of memory care retirement community

Dementia villages like Hogeweyk truly are revolutionizing memory care, allowing residents to maintain independence, dignity, and normalcy as part of their quality of life.

Creating a similar memory care assisted living community in the United States presents some challenges, however. For one, the majority of long-term care costs in the U.S. are shouldered by individuals, rather than by the government as is the case with socialized medicine in Europe.

But, there actually is one dementia village that currently is being developed by the non-profit United Methodist Communities in Holmdel, New Jersey; it is called Avandell. As their website states, much like Hogeweyk, “Avandell takes the institution out of dementia living and care and puts it in a village setting where normalcy and engagement are the goals.”

When it opens in the coming years, Avandell will be home to 105 residents with dementia, who will live in 15 homes within the village — each residence featuring a communal living room, dining room, den, porch, laundry, and kitchen, as well as private bedrooms with a bathroom. The community will include a grocery store, restaurant, salon, town center, and health club, as well as shared greenspace. Within the village, there also will be a neurocognitive clinic and a resource hub for residents and their loved ones.

>> Related: Special Considerations Surround Unpaid Dementia Caregiving

Adult day care for dementia patients

Some senior living and care providers are bringing this relaxed, comfortable, village-like feel to the adult day services space. Adult day care facilities offer care services to seniors during the day, allowing caregivers to work during the day or have some respite time away from their caregiving responsibilities.

Milton Village in South Bend, Indiana, is a Hogeweyk-inspired adult day services center developed specifically for dementia patients. The facility was created with a Main Street design and includes both a pub and a soda shop-style restaurant, salon, and community room, as well as providing a variety of health, social, and support services to the person with dementia and their loved ones.

In Sandy Springs, Georgia, Town Square is another adult day care center designed to look like a 1950s town. Providing dementia patients with programming for exercise and socialization, as well as reminiscence therapy techniques to stimulate the brain, Town Square features 13 “storefronts” to give the facility a casual, familiar feel. Guests will find a 1950s-style diner, movie theater, music room, library, salon, and exercise studio.

Updating memory care assisted living for a today’s dementia patient

This new take on the memory care assisted living community and adult day care services for those living with dementia — person-centric environments that feel more like “home” than a nursing home — is a sea change for the senior living and care industry.

These transformative facility designs and care philosophies likely will increase in popularity, particularly as the often fiercely independent Baby Boomers begin to require memory care services. It will be interesting to see if the senior living industry in the U.S. is able to develop dementia villages like Hogeweyk that are cost-effective without being cost-prohibitive to a majority of seniors.

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