Who are we without memory? This, I guess, is the kind of existential question that might be asked by anyone who has had a relationship with someone living with dementia. It is certainly a primary concern of the developers of the Brigadoon Reminiscence Village, currently under construction at Stony Point, Betty’s Bay as a 24- hour permanent residence for people with dementia.
A strong focus will be on providing opportunities for sensory experiences which may trigger memories of the past, things like smell, touch, visual stimuli and sound, especially music. Memory anchors us to ourselves and therefore plays a pivotal role in creating a sense of well-being in people with dementia.
And what better place for establishing a Reminiscence Village than on a heritage site dating back to WW II! A stone’s throw from the sea and a small beach, this 2 ha property features the sight, sound and smell of the ocean as an ever-present backdrop, and is surrounded by fynbos and shade trees with their own mini eco-systems of birds, animals and insects. Then, there are the fascinating old buildings, remnants of one of three radar stations erected on the Southern Cape coast to keep track of potential enemy activity.
Apart from two wooden barracks, there is a small chapel, a residence and a variety of outbuildings. No alterations may be made to the exterior of these historic buildings, but the developers, Liesel Nel, her sister Elseline Rorich and JC Hanekom have exciting plans to adapt the interiors to form interesting, memory-laden recreational spaces for their residents.
This prime property has been through several metamorphoses since the end of the war. In 1947 it was bought by Harold Porter and Jack Clarence who turned it into the Clareport Holiday Resort under the management of a Mr Wallers who, in due course, bought it himself and continued the business.
In the 1960s the property again changed hands. This time it was bought by the Dutch Reformed Church to be run as a camping site for holiday-makers. (Indeed Liesel and Elseline remember, as children, spending a camping holiday there with their parents.) The Church also erected a new U-shaped building, comprising 14 twobedroomed apartments and it is this structure which is being transformed into the Brigadoon residential centre for people living with dementia.
Each cosy flatlet is being adapted to accommodate two residents in their own rooms, which they may want to furnish themselves, a small sitting room with a dining nook and a specially designed bathroom to accommodate their particular needs. A large communal sunroom/lounge/ dining room is being built with sliding doors on to a panoramic view of the sea. There will be a four-bed short-term frail care facility, but preference will be given to leaving patients who need special care in their own rooms where they feel secure and safe.
There is one thing the developers are determined will not be included in the apartments and that is a TV set. “We do not want our residents to sit vacantly staring at a flickering TV screen from morning to night,” says Liesel. “The only time a TV will be switched on in the common living area will be for a specific programme, be it sport or a movie, or a musical concert.” Indeed, music will play an important role in the residents’ lives. It has been shown in studies of Alzheimer’s patients that music helps to stimulate the brain, as well as soothing and creating a sense of well-being in individuals.
There will be plenty of other activities for the patients to participate in and a recreational therapist to plan and oversee them. Apart from a multisensory room where they will be exposed to a variety of experiences to help jog their memory, stimulating outings and walks will be organised on a regular basis.
From experience gained at their other, similar facility, Brigadoon Lodge in Durbanville, the developers have discovered that the residents enjoy one another’s company and are very caring. “I can tell you they have heaps of fun together and everybody laughs a lot,” chuckles Elseline. Visits from family members are encouraged as often as possible, too, and a support group for them will be established.
The Village will also offer day care to people living with dementia in the wider community, as well as respite care for family carers who need a break. “Looking after someone with dementia, whether it be Alzheimer’s or any one of the other 81 forms of the condition, can be mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting for family members,” Liesel points out, “and they desperately need to take breaks from time to time, yet at the same time, need to know that their loved one will be well cared for while they do so.”
Staffing at the Village is, of course, a priority, as is intensive and continuous training. One fully-trained carer will be allocated to four residents, there will be a full-time senior sister on duty at all times and specialist nursing managers. Both Liesel and Elseline are trained psychologists and Liesel, in particular, has over 30 years of experience as a psychogeriatric nursing sister. She trains the carers herself (including some from outside the Village) and also conducts dementia assessments for prospective residents. JC’s role is that of Business and Financial Manager, without which it would be impossible to run such a major enterprise.
The overall aim of the group is very clearly articulated: “We believe the key to quality living for people with dementia is creating homely, safe and supportive environments to live in. Each resident is involved in life and his/her future is valued and supported. Qualities like love, empathy, respect, dignity and excellence are the cornerstones of the service we offer.”
Brigadoon Village is scheduled to open on 4 August and enquiries can be directed to Liesel at 083 6070347 or email firstname.lastname@example.org