Inside the $28 Million Alzheimer's Village Where Patients Can Shop, Farm and Socialize Freely

A multimillion-dollar village designed as part of an experimental treatment for sufferers of Alzheimer's disease has started construction in southwestern France.

The complex—hailed as France's first "Alzheimer's village"—will house 120 people and will include amenities such as shops, a gym, a restaurant and a small farm, allowing residents to walk freely and maintain a social life, despite their condition. Construction of France's first facility of its kind began on Monday near a spa town in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region and will open in 2019.

"There won't be any white coats in the village," Gabriel Bellocq, former mayor of the Dax commune, where the new settlement will stand, told daily newspaper Le Parisien. "We wanted the patients to feel at home in an environment that could remind them of life in the good old days."

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The "village" is designed to mimic the lifestyle outside hospital walls in southwestern France, with roughly 200 plainclothes caregivers and staff. Alzheimer's patients who live in the new facilities will be confined to a 12-acre, gated piece of land, at the urbanized corner of sub-Pyrenean farmlands and forests.

France’s first Alzheimer’s disease care facility, seen here in a computer-generated bird’s-eye view, is designed to resemble life outside hospital care. Construction began on Monday, and the “village” is scheduled to open in the fall of 2019. Département Landes/YouTube

The building plans include four different housing complexes, made to resemble the region's historic bastide settlements. The medieval town layout became common to Aquitaine when rulers would command the construction of fortified settlements, sometimes from scratch, using a grid plan around the main square. The new village in Dax will be located around 50 miles from one such bastide, founded in the 13th century.

The project will reportedly cost 24 million euros ($28 million), predominantly paid for by the regional government, and researchers will work with the facility to determine whether the new environment provides a better treatment for Alzheimer's.

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France’s first Alzheimer’s disease care facility (seen in this computer-generated still image) will be comprised of four housing complexes, each containing a quad for residents to socialize in. Département Landes/YouTube

The cause of Alzheimer's disease is unclear, early predictive diagnosis is difficult and no cure currently exists. The life-limiting illness is the most common type of dementia, which causes a decline of the brain's functions, which may include memory, reasoning ability and other mental activities, according to Britain's National Health Service.

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"This is an experiment, validated by the Regional Agency of Health and the Ministry of Health, which intends to use this village to study the evolution of the disease outside the medical environment," Bellocq told the Europe1 broadcaster.

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Patient housing resembles local villages in this computer rendering of the new Alzheimer’s care facility in southern France. Volunteers will help set up games, activities and concerts at the facility, which will also have a small farm. Département Landes/YouTube

This project will become the third of its kind in the world, inspired by results in one of its predecessors in the Netherlands. The residents of the village there experienced an increase in well-being and a longer life expectancy, according to Bellocq.

Local residents will have priority in admittance, which will depend on medical referral, as well as application. Local officials have promised to match nursing home fees and make some form of government assistance available so as not to prevent poorer patients from residing in the facility.