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Posted: July 01, 2008

Alzheimer's Patients Wait for a Bus to Nowhere

Eldercare professionals wrack their brains trying to find ways to stop Alzheimer’s patients from wandering away. Now, a German nursing home thinks it has an answer: they’ve stationed a fake bus stop in front of the facility to attract would-be wanders who wait for a bus that never comes.

At certain points, almost all Alzheimer’s patients try to wander off. Those who succeed sometimes meet dangerous or even fatal consequences when they can’t be located. Families, who care for loved ones at home, have come up with some inventive ideas, but institutions usually rely on staff to keep wandering in check.

With the bus stop to nowhere, the eldercare professionals have added to their arsenal of ways to deter dangerous wanderings. The stop, a replica of a standard city bus stop, sits in front of the Benrath Senior Centre in the city of Dusseldorf. If a patient begins to wander, they are likely to opt for bus transportation, and stand waiting for a bus that never comes. The nursing home staff spot the seniors and retrieve them safely.

Before the phantom bus stop, the nursing home was forced to rely on police to locate a walk-away patient, who so often simply wants to find their way “home.” The effects of Alzheimer’s eventually make such recollections of home impossible.

"If we can’t find them, then we have to alert the police,” said Benrath's director Richard Neureither. “It can be particularly dangerous if this happens in winter and they spend the night out in the cold.”

In Germany, as in some other nations, nursing homes cannot physically restrict patients in the facility, making wandering more of a problem. As a result, the Dusseldorf home teamed up with a local eldercare association called the Old Lions. Together, they convinced the city transportation authority to provide the physical bus stop.

“It sounds funny,” Old Lions Chairman Franz-Josef Goebel told The Daily Telegraph in London, “but it helps. Our members are 84 years old on average. 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.”

Neureither said patients standing at the stop typically quickly forget why they were there in the first place, making retrieval that much easier.

“We will approach them and say that the bus is coming later today and invite them in to the home for a coffee,” said Neureither. “Five minutes later they have completely forgotten they wanted to leave.”

The idea has proved so successful that it has now been adopted by several other homes across Germany.

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