16X9: Inside the world of dementia, as a painful reality sets in

WATCH ABOVE: 16×9’s “The Unspooling Mind”

This explosive statement from Yvonne Van Amerongen, the co-founder of “Dementia Village” in the Netherlands, sets the stage.

Every hour another 900 people are diagnosed with dementia somewhere in the world. It strikes so often that it’s sometimes referred to as a pandemic of the 21st century.

READ MORE: Dementia: What are the early warning signs and symptoms?

If there were a country called “Dementia,” it would be inhabited by 44 million people.

Two of those people are parents of Global News’ Dawna Friesen, who is sharing a wrenching, emotional and intimate journey.

Story continues below advertisement
Global National anchor, Dawna Friesen opens up about her family and its battle with dementia. 16X9
Global National anchor, Dawna Friesen, visits her mother in a long-term care facility in Winnipeg. Both of Dawna's parents suffer from dementia. 16X9
Global National anchor, Dawna Friesen, visits her father in a long-term care facility in Winnipeg. Both of Dawna's parents suffer from dementia. 16X9

Friesen steps outside her traditional role, hosting the national news, to become one of the main characters in this one-hour exploration of dementia.

Her voice joins millions of anguished family members who’ve watched helplessly as a loved one has slowly, inexorably disappeared in the grip of one of the most feared mental illnesses of our times.

Story continues below advertisement

WATCH: Global National anchor, Dawna Friesen, opens up about her family and its battle with dementia in a special presentation for 16×9.

READ MORE: Dawna Friesen shares her family’s struggle

Within a single generation, Canada will have 1.4 million dementia victims, and yet we are the only country among the G8 with no national strategy.

This program visits the world of dementia over a single 48-hour period, touching down on three continents, and featuring individuals, strangers to each other, but who inhabit the same mysterious and fearful place.

Story continues below advertisement

Our story begins in a tiny Dutch village on the outskirts of Amsterdam, inhabited entirely by elderly people suffering from dementia. It’s a place offering the promise of a more hopeful kind of care.

Behind the single locked door, there is a world of theatre, music, a pub, a market, gardens and fountains.

One hundred and fifty-two residents live in quaint row houses, each with their own doorbell as six to eight “roommates” share a common living space.

WATCH BELOW: Take a tour of “Dementia Village” – a village in the Netherlands inhabited entirely by dementia patients

The Dutch government subsidizes the cost of living in this $25-million village that some have called a “make-believe” world.

But to Yvonne Amerongen and her colleagues, there is nothing more real than the love and friendship the ‘villagers’ enjoy from their caretakers who join them every day in the ebb and flow of daily life.

Story continues below advertisement

From the streets of Dementia Village, we travel to the Land of Smiles where medical tourism is a multi-billion-dollar industry. The European press has derided the latest variation on this medical industry as the “Grandma Export” business.

But we let the viewer decide as they meet some of the twelve Europeans with dementia living under the care of a Swiss expat, Martin Woodtli, a psychologist who used to work with Doctors Without Borders.

In Chiang Mai, Thailand, our camera captures an excruciating moment of decision for one Swiss visitor. He agonizes over whether or not to leave his wife of 41 years behind to live out the rest of her days in a care facility without locks or sedatives rather than in a facility in Switzerland that costs three times as much.

A husband sits with his wife of 41 years as he prepares to make a life-changing decision. 16x9

And we visit Mr. and Mrs. Friesen who now live on the second floor of a Winnipeg nursing home specializing in long-term care.

Story continues below advertisement

They are finally reunited after a series of moves that began five years ago with the first diagnosis of dementia. But, with their dementia well advanced, it seems it is too late for them to realize.

An encore presentation of “The Unspooling Mind” airs Saturday at 7pm on 16×9.

Roxana Spicer is a freelance producer for 16×9. Read about Spicer’s personal experience with dementia through her blog.

The Alzheimer Society of Canada has more detailed information on the national impact of Dementia, other related diseases and where to find help.

With files from Francesca Fionda and Megan Rowney.

Sponsored content