Canada's first "village" for people with dementia is being built in Langley, B.C., and is expected to open its doors in August.

The complex can house up to 76 patients, and features "cottage-like" ground-level homes that allow easy access to the outdoors. Basic units will be available to rent for $7,300 a month, while suites made for patients with more complex needs will cost $8,300.

Ahead of the opening, the CEO of the Alzheimer Society of B.C. spoke to CTV News about some of the unique housing challenges some patients face.

Question from CTV News Vancouver's Jason Pires: What do you think this will do to really deal with the challenges that people living with Alzheimer's or dementia face?

Answer from Maria Howard: It's another option for families – who might eventually get to the point in their journey where they need to consider care – to have some confidence and assurance that if they have to move into a care setting, it's going to be a care setting that focuses on the person first, and sets up the care around that person's individual needs. (As) opposed to what we have today still in B.C. and really across Canada, which is really much a medical care model.


Q: Obviously safety is paramount. What other housing options are available?

A: In B.C., there are a number of different ways that people in care can have good dementia support. We still have the traditional care homes, but many of the care homes are putting in programs within the care setting that look at what their interests are, what their quality of life is, what they want to do in the community.

Providence Health is actually building two other public health care settings, which will really be similar to the Langley village. But one will be more urban, so, it'll be in Vancouver, and one will be on the island. And again, it's trying to set up an environment where it sees the person first. What does that person like to do? Maybe sleep in, maybe eat by themselves, maybe play cards till late at night. So let's look at helping the person and having them have the quality of life they want before we start trying to put a medical sense of care around them.


Q: A lot of the elderly still stay at home under the care of family members. When does it get to that point where you have to have that tough conversation with your family member that maybe the better option is a different kind of housing?

A: It is a tough conversation and it doesn't matter when, it is always a tough conversation. People always want to stay at home. All of us want to be in our own setting with our friends, our families, our neighbourhood, our things… Really the time to have that tough conversation actually is when the person is first diagnosed, when the person in the family can actually have a conversation that is joint. The person with dementia is participating in it and can be sharing their values, their ideas.

One of the toughest things for families who are caring is that they don't know what really the person with dementia's wishes are because communication can begin to decline, and that makes it really tough. People feel guilty that maybe they're not making the best decision. So to have that conversation at the beginning, when there's information, there's education, and people can have then some confidence that, as the disease progresses, that decisions they're making are the ones that we all wanted at the beginning.


Q: Should we be having the conversations with our parents and grandparents before the onset of Alzheimer's, so maybe the communication is better?

A: That's a great point. Just like we plan our will, just like we plan our banking and our estate planning, we also should be talking about what if this happens. It's a hard conversation. Nobody wants to go through this. The reality is that some of our close friends and family will, and so let's have this conversation early. It would be wonderful if people only ever got one disease and if you got Alzheimer's you got no other disease but the reality is we're humans, we're complicated, and so people with dementia can still have other complicated diseases. They can still have cancer, they can have hypertension, diabetes, and so often the transition into care is because the whole complete health issue for the person is becoming too difficult.

It's a hard decision for a family. It really makes it challenging. But the concept of a dementia village is so that transition is as smooth as possible and the person living with the disease can still be in a community and feel a part, feel like they're giving back, and the family can have confidence that they are safe, but also they can be interacting and continuing to have a good relationship.

With an interview from CTV News Vancouver's Jason Pires