A care revolution: Inside Canada’s first dementia village

Click to play video: 'Inside Canada’s first dementia village'
Inside Canada’s first dementia village

In Langley, British Columbia, there’s a village that may remind you of your own: you can go for a stroll, pick up a couple of items from the grocery store or even pop by the salon. But, this particular community was purposefully built to allow for freedom and quality of life. Because every resident in this village has something in common: they’re all living with dementia.

Alan Meggy, 75, has lived at the Village Langley since August 2021. Before moving in, Alan was an avid traveller and adventurer who climbed some of the highest peaks in the world, including in Peru, Nepal and Tanzania. He also raced cars.


“Alan has the most adventurous life of anybody I know,” said his friend of over 20 years, Carole Chesham. “He has climbed several very difficult mountains. … He’s cycled all over, fully loaded. That means with tents, sleeping bags, stove, food, everything.”

Meggy was even living on a boat he called the “Pirasea” until it became too difficult for him.

“He couldn’t remember how to work the washing machine. It was just little things that he’d never had trouble with before that became a problem,” Chesham said.

By coincidence, at the same time, Chesham read about the Village Langley, Canada’s very first dementia village — and the assisted living care community was having an open house. She says she remembers being impressed by her visit and asked Meggy and his sister-in-law if they wanted to take a look at The Village as well, so they did. Then, Meggy put down a deposit.

“I think it’s very important when you’ve been an active person, that you’re in a place where you don’t feel institutionalized, where you feel a sense of freedom, and that’s what you get here in The Village,” Chesham told Global News’ The New Reality.

The Village was co-founded by Elroy Jespersen, who worked in senior living for nearly 30 years. During his career, he began to wonder if there was a better way to care for people living with dementia.

Elroy, one of the co-founders of the Village Langley in British Columbia, speaking with a Villager
Jespersen, one of the co-founders of the Village Langley in British Columbia, speaking with a Villager.

“Having society, first of all, realize that people with dementia are first and foremost people. They are your family in many cases. They can live a good life, a different life, perhaps, but still a good life,” said Jespersen.

So, Jespersen and his team built the five-acre village, and did what it took to make it feel like a neighbourood, including having colourful houses, a community centre and even a farm. One of the key principles at The Village is called, “roam free.”

A group of Villagers out for a walk
A group of Villagers out for a walk.

“Many of the people living with dementia become very agitated because they can’t move about as they wish. So we said we need to build a community where people can walk out the door, walk around, come and go as they please and still remain safe,” Jespersen said.

Inside the gated community, the people interacting and taking care of the Villagers, as the residents are known as, are staff specially trained to work with people with cognitive decline. Jespersen said The Village also requires its staff to take specialized training, in addition to standard healthcare requirements.


“We call it ‘Cracking the Dementia Code’ and it’s online or in person,” he said. “And then we have continual training about working with people living with dementia.”

And to remove the staff-patient dynamic typically seen in more traditional care and nursing homes, dementia villages instead encourage a more relaxed environment.

“We want to deinstitutionalize The Village as much as possible. Institutions, hospitals wear uniforms, they wear smocks, they wear scrubs. And we don’t want that, we aren’t that. So we just [tell the staff to] dress normal,” Jespersen added.
The staff at the Village Langley are specially trained to work with people who are living with dementia
The staff at the Village Langley are specially trained to work with people who are living with dementia.

But the dementia village revolution didn’t start in Canada. You need to go to the Netherlands for that.

In Weesp, Amsterdam there is a village within a village called the Hogeweyk, the world’s very first dementia village. It opened in 2009.

For Eloy van Hal, one of the founders of the Hogeweyk, the mission was simple:

“You have to transform and normalize. So get rid of the institution because people don’t want to live in an institution with the regulations and the way people are treated there. So you have to transform to a more normal living environment and normal human behaviour,” he said.

Villagers at the Hogeweyk live in one of the 27 homes spanning close to four acres. Hogeweyk has a restaurant, a supermarket and a theatre because it’s about being social and having the freedom to live your life.

van Hal adds that it’s important Villagers feel as if they’re at home — because they are.

“Scientific research proves that small-scale living concepts are much better in general for people with dementia. So that is an important element — a house with a front door, a living room, your own bedroom — like you have at home as well.”

Residents pay on a sliding scale, and the Hogeweyk in Weesp is subsidized by the Dutch government.

“In the Netherlands, this type of care is financed out of our national health budgets and the Hogeweyk gets the same budget per resident, per day as every other institution in the Netherlands that provides the same highly complex care skilled nursing. So our budget is the same,” said van Hal, who added staff have specialized training when it comes to dementia.

van Hal and the team at the Hogeweyk want to change dementia care — not just for the close to 188 residents who live there, but beyond the village.

“I’m convinced and I see that this concept can be applied in every country where there is already skilled nursing, it’s not a problem. It’s how you want to spend the budget. So it’s possible everywhere,” van Hal said.


And creative solutions, which focus on the person first, will be needed as dementia is steadily rising.

As of 2023, nearly 700,000 people in Canada are living with dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, and it’s been projected that number will soar to close to 1.7 million by 2050.

“Around 60 to 70 per cent of people who live in nursing homes have some level of dementia,” said Habib Chaudhury, chair and a professor in the department of gerontology at Simon Fraser University.

“We need to look at a more socially-oriented care model that includes the medical support,” he added.

Chaudhury said villages, and other care models that put the person first, can help shape care in the future, but training and education is crucial if we want to find a solution. He also adds the traditional homes we’re used to seeing in Canada were created from more of an acute care model.

Habib Chaudhury in his office at Simon Fraser University
Habib Chaudhury in his office at Simon Fraser University.
“And if you talk about the physical infrastructure, if you go to a nursing home, you feel like you have gone to a hospital setting [with] long corridors, rooms on both sides, large dining room and so on.”

Even though Canada has a dementia strategy – the majority of care in nursing homes is still delivered in that same, old model.

“Most of the people have some level of dementia in long term care,” Habib said.

“We need to change this model in a dramatic way and we need a transformative change that looks at the person in a more comprehensive, more holistic way.”

Back in Langley, Meggy’s friends have dedicated every Monday as “Alan’s Day,” in which they all go down to visit him at his new home.

“There’s seven of us, including Alan, that get together and we do a walk around The Village,” said Chesham about Meggy’s special day. “And if it’s nice weather, we can have a picnic out at a park. And if it’s not nice weather … we have lunch at my house and we chitchat and talk about old times. It’s a magical time.”

There are 75 residents at the Village Langley, and it’s not government subsidized so residents pay a range from about $8,000 to $10,000 a month, depending on their individual care needs. Not everyone will be able to afford to live in a village like this, but the hope is this type of care will be an example of what’s possible in the future.

And even though Alan may no longer be able to climb mountains, or cycle across countries, The Village is a reminder that Alan’s life is still full of adventure, and dignity.

“I like people to realize that Alan is a very special, gentle, kind soul. He would never brag about all the wonderful, amazing things most people would brag about. He’s a very kind-hearted, loving person,” said Chesham of Meggy.


“Thank you,” he said, slightly turning to Chesham.

And as they grab each other’s hand Chesham replied, “You’re welcome, dear. You’re welcome. And I mean it.”

See this and other original stories about our world on The New Reality airing Saturday nights on Global TV, and on globalnews.ca.