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]

About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.