In the Netherlands, that bastion of relatively affordable, comprehensive healthcare, patients with dementia aren’t just relegated to a nursing home or a hospital. Some live in an entire town devoted to assisting aging people with extreme dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Hogeweyk, a model town outside Amsterdam run by a government-funded nursing care company, bills itself as a dementia village, and houses more than 150 people. Completed in 2009, the tiny town stretches across almost 3 acres, with 23 homes where residents can live together in groups. In addition to housing, it has most of the trappings of a normal town, including a supermarket, a cafe, a hardware store, a hair salon, a restaurant, and a theater. And because it’s a care facility, it also has a physical therapy facility and an outpatient care unit.

There are caregivers to take residents to the grocery store and help out with housework, and cooks and store employees are trained to deal with people who have severe dementia. Residents are free to stroll around town or sit around in the cafe, and nearby townspeople often pop in for a concert or street fair, adding to the facility’s sense of normalcy.

Studies find that social isolation, lack of activity, and increased depression are major issues for people dealing with dementia. Being able to perform normal, everyday activities improves the quality of life for these patients, and it helps them maintain a sense of dignity and comfort. Compared to traditional institutions, Hogeweyk gives dementia patients the chance to maintain a semblance of their independence, allowing them to come and go and socialize as they please, with enough experienced caretakers around them to ensure their safety.

It's not the only city in the region with a unique approach to caring for those with mental illness: In Geel, Belgium, residents have taken mentally ill and disabled patients into their homes as boarders for more than 700 years. Hogeweyk, for its part, has received international acclaim from health researchers and designers since its inception, and has even inspired a similar facility in Ontario, Canada.

[h/t: Twisted Sifter]