Alzheimer’s Villages: Fondazione Roma was first to build one in Italy


Far too often in Italy, those who shout loudest seem to be right and the bearers of truth.  Such is the case with regard to those who claim to have been the first to create of residential villages for Alzheimer’s patients in Italy, in the wake of the Dutch experiment.  In recent articles, the latest of which, headlined ‘Safe in the Village’, published on the 25th of March 2017, the founders of the village in Monza, illegitimately take credit for creating the only village of this kind in Italy.

For the avoidance of doubt and to restore the truth of the matter once and for all, Fondazione Roma wishes to stress that it is the only institution entitled to claim to have introduced this alternative care model for Alzheimer’s patients in Italy before others, as demonstrated by the documented chronology of the decisions and consequent actions that led the Foundation to start building the first village in the Bufalotta neighbourhood in Rome.  The works started in July 2016 and will be completed by December 2017 when the Village opening ceremony will be held, whereas the cornerstone has yet to be laid in Monza.

The Chairman of Fondazione Roma, Professor Emmanuele F. M. Emanuele planned to build this type of village just as he pioneered and created the first Hospice in Rome (located in via Poerio) in 1999, in order to address the lack of attention paid to terminal patients, palliative care and home care for Alzheimer’s and ALS patients.

In October 2012 the professor visited De Hogeweyk in Weesp, near Amsterdam, where a similar village was built years ago.  He was impressed by the patients’ calmness and the discreet efficiency of the care provided in a familiar environment and entirely different to that of a hospital.  This is a residential facility where people with moderate to severe dementia live together in groups of six or seven in comfortable two story houses.  Each resident has their own bedroom and furnishings as if they were at home and receive adequate, albeit untraditional, care.  Each house is tailored to the cultural, social or professional lifestyles of the residents and overlooks the well-paved boulevards, dotted with gardens, that lead to a centre with shops, a grocery store, a hairdresser’s, a café-restaurant, a music hall and even a theatre.  The residents choose their daily schedule according to their interests and on the basis of the wide and diversified range of available activities and are encouraged to interact with the local community through visits to museums and nature walks.  The performances in the theatre are open to the neighbourhood too.  Therefore, residents, carers, visitors, friends and volunteers form a truly open community.  Even healthcare is provided as normal, the doctor, the nurse or other professionals are called when required.  The carers, who wear street clothing, wander around the village and perform a dual role, such as hairdressers, waiters, shop assistants, caretakers etc.

Consequently, as soon as the Chairman, Professor Emanuele returned from De Hogeweyk, he submitted the proposal to the competent organs of the Foundation, which enthusiastically approved and formally launched the project.  Therefore, in 2012, the Foundation started to search for a building plot for the development of the village and examined the working drawings, specifications and bills of quantities with the advice of the facility manager and a founder of the Hogeweyk, Eloy van Hal. Once the land had been located and purchased in the Bufalotta neighbourhood in Rome, the cornerstone was laid during a ceremony attended by the local authorities.  However, due to countless bureaucratic and administrative obstacles the building site was only opened in July 2016.

Considering the official character of the ceremony, the procedure hitherto was paradoxically beset with difficulties and unexpected events.  Once the land had been located, the first hurdle was to obtain the building permit from the city council of Rome, which took over a year, probably due to the local elections.  In parallel, the Regional authorities, the Interdepartmental Conference, the Local Heath Service, the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, the Engineers Corps and the Fire Brigade had to express their opinion and issue the respective permits.  Moreover, the application for water, electricity and gas connections in the building site submitted to the multi-utility company, ACEA, proved very taxing since the company took months to provide these services.  Everything seemed to be ready and we were about to start building, when lo and behold another problem arose.  We were requested to obtain a hydrogeological permit issued by the “Consorzio di Bonifica del Tevere e dell’Agro Romano”, which requires that all building works proposed should include an adequate hydraulic survey performed by a qualified engineer, to prove that the works were compatible with the expected flood levels of the river Tiber in the next 200 years, in an area where this river is not even in sight!

This is episode is iconic of how Italy is held hostage of intrusive and unaccountable bureaucracy and absurd procedures which aim to paralyse any undertaking and are based on the old and distorted view that civil society’s are not to be trusted.     However, bureaucracy is not as equally paralysing in other parts of the country, considering that similar facilities, planned after the one launched by Fondazione Roma, are being built in Monza and Varese and will, apparently, be opened in 2018.  Evidently, projects that may be completed in Rome in three years are achievable in one elsewhere, especially in the North.

At the end of this year the first real residential village for one hundred Alzheimer’s patients will rise in Rome.  Truly inspired by the Hogeweyk, which is already a model for those who wish to face this condition in an unconventional facility, that intends to  reduce the incidence of the residents’ behavioural disorders, by providing a relaxed, reassuring and comfortable environment where they are free to wander or do anything they please.

As well as the building costs, Fondazione Roma will exclusively ensure that of all the operating costs are covered, so that the one hundred residents, well over the sixty-four expected in Monza, will be housed and cared for fully free of charge.

Fondazione Roma is sincerely satisfied that its example will be replicated elsewhere in Italy, since this will be of benefit to Alzheimer’s patients and their families.

However the Foundation also demands that the truth be respected and that henceforth the fact that it was the first to introduce this revolutionary model in Italy be recognised.