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Some with Alzheimer's find care in far-off nations

By Denis D. Gray

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Dec. 30 2013 12:13 p.m. MST

He brought his mother to Chiang Mai, where she became the home's first "guest." Woodtli never uses the word "patient."

Over the next 10 years, the 52-year-old psychologist and social worker purchased or rented eight two-story houses where 13 Swiss and German patients now reside.

On most afternoons, the group gathers at a private, walled park to swim, snack and relax on deck chairs. Regular outside activities are organized because Woodtli believes these stimuli may help delay degeneration.

He says his guests "cannot explain it, but I think they feel part of a family, a community, and that is very important."

Sabine Jansen, head of Germany's Alzheimer Society, says that while some with Alzheimer's may adjust to an alien place, most find it difficult because they live in a world of earlier memories.

"They are better oriented in their own living places and communities," she says. "Friends, family members, neighbors can visit them. Also because of language and cultural reasons, it is best for most to stay in their home country."

Angela Lunde of the U.S.-based Mayo Clinic says that generally the afflicted do better in a familiar environment, but over time, even those with advanced stages of the disease can adjust well. "I think a positive transition has less to do with the move itself and more with the way in which the staff and new environment accommodates the person living with dementia," she says.

Woodtli says people who have traveled widely and are accustomed to change can probably adapt.

"One of our guests sometimes wakes up in the morning and says, 'Where am I?' But she would do the same if she was in a care center in Switzerland," he says. "One guest thinks she is in a schoolhouse at Lake Lucerne."

At the swimming pool, Madeleine Buchmeier snaps photos and laughs as she watches a caregiver take her smiling husband's hands to twirl around together in a dance out of childhood.

"It's a miracle," she says. Geri used to bang his head against the walls of a care facility in Switzerland, she says, "as if he wanted to do something, get somewhere."

He would sink when entering water. In the three weeks since they arrived, he has calmed down and can swim again, all while his medicine is being sharply reduced.

Like Kuratli, Buchmeier is deciding whether her 64-year-old husband, a former Ford Motor Co. employee, should stay or go back to Switzerland.

Nearby, Manfred Schlaupitz, a former Daimler-Benz engineer in his 70s, lies back in a deck chair, cradling a stuffed toy lamb. His caregiver, Kanokkan Tasa, sits on the grass beside him, gently massaging his legs and tickling his chin. She has been with him for six years.

"If you think of it as a job it's very difficult," she says, "but if it comes from the heart, it is easy."

Like a number of Alzheimer's victims, Schlaupitz responds well to music. Sometimes they sing one of his favorite songs: "Yesterday."

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