Make Believe in Dementia Care

Is designing spaces or products that incorporate make-believe elements within dementia care the right thing to do?  Currently there seems to be much discussion around this topic and we know that make-believe could be viewed as potentially deceptive and deception is a core issue in relation to person-centered dementia care.


Experiments with “dementia villages” are being carried out in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Synovum Care at Bellmere, Queensland, are opening a small scale living community in August 2017. Some believe this style of development is compassionate care and a true alternative to more clinical settings, whilst others are more critical saying it is akin to being on “The Truman Show”. 

Many facilities allow the use of more simple objects of make-believe such as baby dolls, social robots or creatively camouflaging exit doors all intended to reduce distress for people with dementia.

There is some very interesting research being conducted by Assistant Professor Ike Kamphof and Ruud Hendriks called “Make-Believe Matters. The Moral Role Things Play in Dementia Care.” Prof. Kamphof and Hendriks are currently doing fieldwork in care homes to study a wide range of objects that have aspects of make-believe. They say that trickery and potential deceit are serious ethical issues, yet make-believe in dementia care is a complex issue. Surely not all pretending is wrong? We will keep you posted on the results.

In Dresden, Germany, there is a retirement home called Alexa Senior Residence. For the past 18 months Alexa have conducted an experiment in reactivating residents failing memories with long vanished East German objects. They have created an interior reminiscent of Communist East Germany and the results are quite remarkable. 

“Many can eat again on their own, or go to the toilet independently and even some who were bed-ridden have got up” said therapist Alicia Schoppe. Experts have confirmed that the Dresden experience is not a coincidence but proves how the brain stores and can reactivate memories, even if its main memory core has deteriorated. Dr. Vjera Holthoff-Detto, a specialist in Berlin said, “To reactivate the whole image, it is enough to find a key to one pillar…that can then light up other pillars.”

Interiors matter and can make a huge difference to people’s lives.