5 Questions With Larry Carlson
Retired President and CEO of United Methodist Communities of New Jersey and innovator in dementia care
Q.Why do you want to reimagine life for people dealing with dementia?
A. After 40 years in this industry, I felt that there must be a better way to provide a dignified and meaningful life for individuals dealing with a dementia diagnosis. One in three seniors dies from Alzheimer’s, more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. In the past, aging care corporations put residents in their little areas, and it would be like locking them away. It is not normal for people to live in a unit of 25 people. We were trained to say “no” to things, like to go outside. I want to say “yes.”
Q. What was your inspiration for “Avandell,” the new dementia village you are planning?
A. In 2017 my wife and I visited The Hogeweyk Dementia Village in Amsterdam, and we thought, “Why isn’t anyone doing this in the U.S.? I wanted a departure from the current model of care, so residents could live in a more homelike environment. At Avandell, there will be 15 cottages where seven people with the dementia diagnosis will live, for a total of 105 people on 18 acres. It is more of a family scale where we can group people with similar values, like music, sports or art. Each house will have seven bedrooms, a kitchen, living room, dining room, porch and den. The cottages will all be in a circle, joined together with breezeways and discreet fences, and there will only be one way in and one way out. Residents can go outside and explore. There will be farm animals, a greenhouse and a butterfly garden. They can experience the weather, because experiencing the weather is normal. There will be heated sidewalks for safety.
Q. How will meals be handled?
A. The house will have a budget and residents will decide what to eat for the day. They will go to the grocery store and pick out what they want. Why? Because it is normal to go to the grocery store and cook dinner together. The caregiver and house coordinator will guide the process. It will be a more natural rhythm of life.
Q. What did you have to change about The Hogeweyk model to make it acceptable in the states?
A. The regulations in the United States are made for a “big box” building. By building breezeways to connect our 15 houses, it will allow the building to function as one. It was really working with the Department of Health to get the regulations to sync with what we want to do.
Q. Where does the project stand right now?
There are neighbors who do not want a “depressing” dementia village in their backyard. We won the zoning, but they are appealing it. We have to fight those battles. This project will ultimately be successful, it will just take time and money. It should be noted that a community like Avandell can be built anywhere. We intentionally developed the care model so it could be re-created somewhere else.