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Uncommon Act of Design: Fake Bus Stop Helps Alzheimer's Patients

A German hospital's amazing solution to a baffling problem.

Alzheimer's bus stop

One of the most pernicious symptoms of Alzheimer's is that patients, in a fit of confusion, feel suddenly disoriented from their surroundings and wracked with a need to just get home. As a result, Alzheimer's patients in nursing homes often escape—wandering at large, with no memory of who they are, oblivious to danger. The obvious (and common) solution is to lock up Alzheimer's wards. But then, that seems cruel and it often aggravates a panicking patient even more.

Via Radiolab's podcast comes a remarkable story of how the Benrath Senior Center in Dusseldorf, Germany, found an alternative solution. The staff there noticed that escaped Alzheimer's patients often head directly to their only exit: Public transportation.

So they built a fake bus stop, right in front of the clinic. It works. Seniors trying to escape wander out and settle there—-offering the staff a neutral ground to soothe them back inside. The seniors even tend to get lulled by the wait for a bus—they often flash back from their imagined past and snap back into the present. That single idea has since changed care at the senior center—the nurses now lead patients back from "other worlds" by allowing them to explore the conceit, rather than trying to convince them otherwise.

That's a brilliant act of design, in the same manner as the "@" sign: The idea's inventor, an adviser to the senior center, managed to re-appropriate the common bus stop—and everything it symbolizes—in a way that essentially hacks the mind.

Check out the full story at Radiolab—it's a tearjerker. And then add Radiolab to your podcasts.

[Image by emrank]

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  • daniel pennington

    When my wife's grandmother started to wander the family came up with an ingenious idea; a radio turned on to an all talk station. As this lady opened the back door to leave, the radio played a male voice at the bottom on the stairs. She didn't know who it was, but didn't want to go where 'those men' were. She'd hurriedly close the door and go back inside.

  • Roy Leban

    I love this idea and I'm not surprised it worked. Alzheimer's and dementia patients long-term memory works on a spotty basis, enough that they can be fooled by things like this. I do wonder if it would work as well in places where there is less public transportation.

    I'll admit to being somewhat (pleasantly) surprised that somebody came up with the idea. When we moved my father-in-law into an Alzheimer's facility, we were disappointed to find out how little is done to accomodate patients in reassuring ways. We built out his room to match his house. Every day he says it's not his house, but he said the same thing of his real house before we moved him, and he is comfortable there, he returns to his room, knowing subconsciously that he belongs. And he would never have felt the same thing about the clinical room that we started with, even if we'd tossed in some of his furniture.

    Here's an Ignite talk I gave about this (5 minutes):

    Roy Leban

  • Dianne Turenne

    From my school friend, Annie. A brilliant solution to a common problem. Very creative.