The Alzheimer’s Bus Stop… to Nowhere

The Alzheimer’s Bus Stop… to Nowhere

German nursing homes started a trend that has taken hold of European nursing homes throughout the country: fake bus stops for Alzheimer’s patients.

The idea was first tried at Benrath Senior Center in Düsseldorf, Germany, who joined forces with a local care association and the public transportation department to construct an exact replica of a standard bus stop outside, with one small difference: buses do not use it.

Before this unique system was created the center frequently had been forced to rely on police to retrieve the Alzheimer’s patients who often wanted to go to homes and families that did not exist. After some careful observation, the staff at the center noticed a trend that escaped Alzheimer’s patients often headed directly to their only exit: public transportation. The theory of why this type of deception works is that in Alzheimer’s patients their short-term memory hardly works at all, but the long-term memory is still active. They know the green and yellow bus sign and remember that waiting there means they will go home.

How the system works is that the bus stop diffuses the sense of panic. For instance, if a delusional patient decided that she needed to go home immediately because her children were all alone and waiting for her, the attendant didn’t need to restrain her or talk her out of it, she simply said, “Oh, well, there’s the bus stop.” Thus, the patient would go sit and wait. Knowing that she was on her way home, she would relax and, given her diminished cognition, she would eventually forget why she was there. Staff can then approach the patients and tell them that the bus is delayed and invite them in for refreshments while they wait. Five minutes later they have completely forgotten they wanted to leave.

This system has become so successful that many nursing homes throughout Germany and Europe have built these “fake bus stops”.

Many Alzheimer’s patients experience unexpected urges to reconnect with their past. Trying to convince someone with Alzheimer’s that their uncle Joseph is no longer living, or that he’s too far away, is no use.

So, how to manage these situations? One solution that’s just come to our attention: placing fake bus stops outside of clinical facilities taking care of Alzheimer’s patients.

According to the publication of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, a few nursing homes in Germany are quite comfortable with letting their Alzheimer’s patients wait for the bus, to wherever they plan on going. Once the urge passes, and the patient can’t recall why they’re waiting, caregivers can redirect the patient to another activity.

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