Happy New Year, everyone. I’ve been out of contact for some time, as the holidays were especially rich this year. This year, I’m hoping to have something new for you every Monday, Wednesday and Friday; I hope you’ll stick around.
Last night, as I was driving back from my parents’ place in New Jersey, I was listening to endless episodes of Radiolab, probably my favorite NPR show at the moment. The below episode, about 13 minutes long, describes a nursing home in Germany where a novel solution was developed for Alzheimer’s patients who wander.
As you may or may not know, one of the major problems with dementia patients in nursing homes is that they can become convinced that the world they are in is not where they are supposed to be, that they are much younger version of themselves and that they must get home to their children or even to their parents, and the urgency of this belief is so strong that they will find a way to escape the facility and sometimes wander to their own deaths from hypothermia or accident.
The solutions for this were previously rather ugly: restraint, sedating drugs, and other forceful methods that may have succeeded in keeping the patient from wandering, but didn’t generally work for returning the patient to reality, or giving them a high quality of life.
So some Germans wondered: what if we put a bus stop on the property?
After all, a bus stop is the first place patients would often go: a gateway to wherever they were trying to reach. And it turns out that this was highly effective: patients would go to the bus stop, sit there for a while, and then forget what they were doing. Attendants and nurses would go sit next to them on the bench, gently suggest that they go back inside, and return them softly to the present.
I loved this story of how we might allow people who have one foot deep in the past dwell in their memories for a time, then return without unnecessary further trauma. Give a listen.