“We’re lost,” said Truus Ooms, 81, to her friend Annie Arendsen, 83, as they rode a city bus together.
“As the driver, you should really know where we are,” Ms. Arendsen told Rudi ten Brink, 63, who sat at the wheel of the bus.
But she was joking.
The three are dementia patients at a care facility in the eastern Netherlands. Their bus ride – a route on the flat, tree-lined country roads of the Dutch countryside – was a simulation that plays out several times a day on three video screens.
It is part of an unorthodox approach to dementia treatment that doctors and caregivers across the Netherlands have been pioneering: harnessing the power of relaxation, childhood memories, sensory aids, soothing music, family structure and other tools to heal, calm and nurture the residents, rather than relying on the old prescription of bed rest, medication and, in some cases, physical restraints.
“The more stress is reduced, the better,” said Dr. Erik Scherder, a neuropsychologist at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and one of the country’s best-known dementia care specialists. “If you can lower stress and discomfort, it has a direct physiological effect.”
Simulated trips in buses or on beaches – like one in a care facility in Haarlem, not far from a real beach – create a gathering point for patients. The shared experience lets them talk about past trips and take a mini holiday from their daily lives.
Dementia, a group of related syndromes, manifests itself in a steep decline in brain functions. The condition steals memories and personalities. It robs families of their loved ones and saps resources, patience and finances.
Up to 270,000 Dutch people – roughly 8.4 percent of the 3.2 million residents over the age of 64 – have dementia, and the government expects that number to double in the next 25 years.