Fake Bus Stops for Dementia Patients in Germany

The search for a dementia patient who has escaped from his or her home or nursing facility is both frantic and nerve-wracking. But a new experiment in Germany is trying to decrease reliance on policemen and the stress of a missing person search.

Benrath Senior Center, a German care facility, teamed up with the local public transportation department to construct a replica of a bus stop outside the center. Public transportation is the primary way that escaped dementia patients get from one place to another. At the fake bus stop, the green and yellow sign triggers the patient’s long-term memory and reminds him or her that a bus will come to the bus stop and pick the patient up, taking him or her home or wherever it is he or she “needs” to go at that moment. Ideally, the patient will then sit down at the bus stop and wait.

But the bus never comes.

If the care facility realizes that a patient has gone missing, the bus stop becomes the first place to look. Waiting at the bus stop lowers the agitiation of the patient, who understands that there is nothing to do but wait until the bus arrives. This calming makes the patient approachable. Caregivers inform the still-waiting patient that the bus will be five minutes late, and invite the patient inside the center for refreshments until the bus arrives. Because Alzheimer’s and dementia patients have poor short-term memories, the patient is likely to forget that he or she ever wanted to leave the senior center in the first place.