Elderly people trying to make a break for freedom are common at nursing homes. Confused patients at the Ben Rath nursing home in Germany would often slip out the door and get lost. Some would be found wandering in stores or even the forest. Others would jump on buses in search of family that had passed away. One woman found her way back to her old home and was surprised to find people she didn’t know living there.
When these escapes would happen, the Ben Rath staff would go crazy with worry trying to find them. In the past, the staff only had a couple of options. They could either sedate residents who were trying to escape or they could lock them up.
They were brainstorming for a better way to deal with the problem when someone suggested making a fake bus stop. The local government agreed to help and provided an identical bus stop right in front of the Ben Rath nursing home. It had the same colors, benches and bus schedules. Naturally, the first thing that happened was local neighbors began to wait at the bus stop until a staff member would notice and tell them the bus stop was fake.
The average age of residents at Ben Rath is 84, and many of them have dementia. One day one of the women thought she was a little girl, and she demanded to see her mother. The staff tried to calm her down, but she was insistent. The staff led her out to the bus stop and asked her to wait. A nurse sat with her enjoying the sunshine and fresh air while waiting for the bus. After a little while, the elderly woman forgot what she was waiting for, and the nurse convinced her to come back inside for some tea.
The fake bus stop now gets used every few days by patients who demand to leave. They are often guided there by staff or by patients who have escaped before and the first thing they see is the bus stop. It has been so successful that it has spread to other nursing homes around Germany.
While the staff at Ben Rath are, in a way, lying to their elderly patients, they do so with compassion and respect. The director of Ben Rath says, instead of drugging them or demanding that they accept reality, “You have to deal with them in the reality in which they live.”