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Living Better With Alzheimer’s Thanks to a Village Square, a Garden and Autonomy

Specially designed spaces allow people with dementia to live freely—and could slow their decline.

Residents of Village Landais in Dax, France.

Residents of Village Landais in Dax, France.

Photographer: Nathan Laine/Bloomberg

When Therese Jeffs used to visit her mother’s nursing home, she often found her once-loving and adventurous parent with her face screwed up and her body rigid with tension. Because her mother, in her 80s, had lived with dementia for years, she was no longer able to verbalize her emotions or even her pain.

But when she moved to a new facility built to resemble a small village, her demeanor changed dramatically. At the Care Village, a campus of white clapboard houses on the shores of New Zealand’s Lake Rotorua, her body language visibly relaxed as she spent hours in her shared cottage’s living room, listening to opera or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. “They played the music she liked, and she would sit there, foot tapping and hands flowing,” Jeffs says. “She wasn’t able to articulate how she felt, except when you looked at her and you saw how she was, you knew she was happier.”