Fake bus stop keeps Alzheimer's patients from escaping

A nursing home in Germany built an exact replica of a bus stop in front of the facility. The only difference is that buses never stop there.
“It sounds funny,” said Old Lions Chairman Franz-Josef Goebel, “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.” The result is that errant patients now wait for their trip home at the bus stop, before quickly forgetting why they were there in the first place.

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

Link | Photo of faux bus stop here (via Arbroath)


  1. It sounds like a puzzle solution in an adventure game. I mean, Interactive Fiction. I guess because it involves people behaving oddly, and somewhat mechanically, in response to an interesting object.

  2. I actually kind of like this idea. I had an office that looked over the entrance to an upscale assisted living facility, and I would see people suffering from one form or another of dementia standing out front trying to hail cabs day in and day out. They were usually trailed by a health aid (I’m pretty sure there was a hands-off policy, because I never really saw them trying to steer people back inside), so basically these folk would hail cabs, and then the aid would have to run up and tell the driver not to let them in. Occasionally someone would get into the cab, which would then circle around the block, after which it would take a number of big, burly nurses to wrestle the (now quite agitated) individual back OUT of the cab and into the building. Seems like letting them sit on a bench and wait until they’ve forgotten what they were up to is actually a nice compromise.

  3. I read an article about a gentleman that developed shoes that contain an embedded chip that will allow people to find their elderly family members who wander away from home. This frightening concept is yet another attempt to chip away at peoples’ civil liberties. Can you say “Big Brother”?

  4. come now, I am sure that we, as mature,responsible adults, can accept that the issue here is a matter of definition. Any legal code anywhere recognizes that capacity is the test of person-hood. Extrapolating that slightly, it is apparent that organisms lacking capacity are therefore not “persons”. This of course re-categorizes the aged with dementia as “Livestock and chattels”. Hence, the use of ordinary shock collars and “invisible fencing” is both countenanced and encouraged by established practice. Glad to be of service.

  5. Saw a news story, many years ago now, about an Alzheimer’s facility that had fake weddings on a regular basis. They dressed up a couple of the staff in a wedding gown and a tux, told the inmates that they were invited, and had them wash and dress up. They were generally happy and well behaved for the duration.

    As boomers start to lose it, maybe care homes can have a Volkswagen camper circle the block. When they see someone making a break for it, the driver (who is dressed in Tie Dye) would tell the patient that he’s on the way to see The Dead.

  6. It’s not such a new idea – my grandmother was in a home with dementia patients about ten years ago, which had the fake bus stop as well.

  7. My grandmother was starting to behave erratically last year. While in hospital, where she was diagnosed with dementia, she managed to escape and went straight to the nearest bus stop. So I can definitely see this working!

    The only problem in the case of my grandmother was that a helpful lady offered to drive her… Luckily by the time they arrived the lady figured out there was a problem and alerted the police.


    You obviously wandered away from SlashDot and I’m glad I found you stuck here in this story about a virtual bus stop.

    The bus will be coming later today, why don’t come back over to SlashDot with me for some other memes while you wait…

  9. I’ve been a nurse since ’98, mostly in dementia units. Fake bus stops are great. You can only reorientate someone to reality so many times before they are pissed off, and the bus stop thing allows them to feel some measure of autonomy, even if they will probably forget in a few minutes.

    I was at one place that put one of these in, just for a certain lady. She would violently explode if you got in her way, as she tried to get out the door. The fake bus stop was great, because she would ask where the bus stop was, then go out and wait for a little bit, and come back and have lunch. It fixed everything for her.

    #6 Jupiter12

    They don’t have shoes, but they do have watches. If you have a houdini, you get them to wear a watch, with a simple rfid, that will trip the door alarms when they head out. Medicare units, for post surgical patients, are not set up as a locked dementia unit, and often use these kind of alarms. Of course, never underestimate a dementia patients generosity, as they give the watch to someone else.

    The shoes would have been great idea, but most of my patients that took off were barefoot.

  10. David P Farrell,

    I, for one, welcome our new meme-spouting overlords. Although I do acknowledge that they’re not really that new.

  11. my aunt is exactly at this home for retired people in düsseldorf. i’ll try to get a photo from the demenz-haltestelle next time i visit her. sadly though, she is too weak to even leave the house.

  12. What… were not tazing people any more?!!!

    I am glad that such an idea gives people the dignity that they deserve. Having an ailment is no reason to deny people especially the elderly there dignity or self respect. I actually love the comment about the fake wedding, it allows people to participate and interact rather then the humdrum of daily life.

    It is in times like this that I am glad we can actually substitute reality (although in a limited capacity).

  13. My last job was an aged care center. I worked there for almost 2 years, one year of which was at the front desk, where my duties included preventing residents from absconding.
    Some times it was very difficult.
    I wish we had a fake bus stop, too.
    It’s not like they all wanted to leave, only a few of them, and they usually forgot about it soon enough.
    The quote from the chairman is so true. I’ve used the “your wife/husband/taxi will be here soon, how about a cup of coffee/tea while we wait?” line so many times and it works a charm.

  14. Alzheimer’s is one subject that I find uniformly upsetting. The idea of your mind going… and at first, you KNOW it’s going. Then, if you live long enough, you eventually forget everything. Some small, sad vestiges of you want to go home, to get away from the hospital and just go home. But, as was said in the article, those urges are fleeting, and you simply are taken by the elbow and guided back inside.

    The fake bus stops are a good idea, but the reason they appeal to the patients seems pitiful to me.

  15. A senior center just got constructed near a bus stop in my neighborhood. They had big signs proudly proclaiming “special neighborhood for the memory impaired”, and now I have an idea of one thing that might be in that neighborhood. I wonder what else might be found in such a neighborhood.


    I’m not going to claim that I was actually being ironic or something silly like that, but I do feel the need to clarify that I like the meme more for it being a Simpsons’ reference than for it being used a million times before I got to it. Season 3 to Season 10: good times.

    And now that I read it after a couple of hours outside of work, it does look like something someone would say if they had neuro-degenerative disease. Really disconnected from everything in the post and the discussion, except for the superficial use of the topic headline. Very interesting.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a bus to catch.

  17. What I found most interesting about this is why we should need this in the first places; I’m almost certain that in most cultures, the elderly are taken care of by the family well into old age, which would obviously make the fake bus stop as well as the fleeting desire to return home a nonexistent problem. Is my assumption false, or is this a new problem caused by the increasing average lifespan in developed countries?

    I also find the idea of an elderly person attempting to escape a nursing home to return to a home where s/he is unwanted to be a really upsetting one.

  18. In my travels, I’ve observed that people in some countries seem to get along quite well with their parents and children, others not so much. I would have drunk drain cleaner before I would have lived with my mother. I imagine that there’s a substantial correspondence between liking your parents and living with them when they get old. Of course, if you have Alzheimer’s, you need more care than a family can usually give if all the adults work. If you don’t have a need for full-time care, not being a harpy might be a good strategy for being welcome in your children’s lives.

  19. MAJORAM @24:not only is it an artifact of longer average lifespan, it is also an artifact of all adults in most families working away from home in western society.An elderly parent, and especially one with dementia, may well need someone to be around and watch out for them pretty much 24/7, and sometimes they need to be under close medical supervision as well- and most families simply do not have the resources to give them that outside of a nursing home.

  20. Yup. It’s cool, it’s certainly not new.
    Heaps of homes have these in Australia.

  21. Better to have a fake bus stop than to be accused being cruel by random people on the streets when running around in white closes and trying to catch a very demented 80 year old man in his underwear to bring him home.
    Happened to me. No fun at all.

  22. Sarah 83 – well, after a while a nice man or lady in white comes and invites you inside….

  23. MARJORAM, please, old people don’t need companionship. They need to be isolated and studied so it can be determined what nutrients they have that might be extracted for our personal use.

    On a more serious note, old people with age-related mental deficiencies are depressing in general, let alone old people with age-related mental deficiencies waiting a fake bus stop. While the loss of dignity is more visible at the fake bus stop, the loss occurs from the gradual decrease of mental acuity that got them there. So while it might feel better to you to have old people being cared for by loved ones instead of paid staff, I’d imagine it’s just (or almost) as depressing for the old people because they realize that they’re steadily becoming less of what they were, and will eventually be a faint image of their former selves, and that they’re powerless to do anything about it.

    I’m not saying that y’all don’t realize this already, my point is that when I feel bad about old people waiting at a fake bus stop, I’m more depressed by the fact that they weren’t legally allowed to put an end to things before it got that far.

  24. There must have been one of these stops near my apartment when I lived in Toronto. There was a shelter, and signs, and even a posted schedule, but the bus never stopped there.

    #29, It depends on how badly you want to check out. I believe someone suggested drain cleaner.

    #30, I suppose that after a few hours, they get bored. Or they get quite irate and call the number posted on the sign to find out when the next bus is.

    #32, 1F21. That was the worst Simpsons reference ever.

  25. SPARROW:

    Uhh, okay… let’s find a better one!

    “Is this the bus to the civic centre?”

    Abe Simpson quotes are the best.

  26. I have long resolved that, should my time come to face certain dementia, a trip to the local legislature with a knapsack of Claymores is the way I wish to go out. Either that or cream pies.

  27. I’m going to borrow a bus and start picking them up, then drop them off at other care facilities (preferably across town). Shuffling the patients around ought to get the staff scratching their heads, and it’ll be fun for everyone.

  28. Living with someone with Alzheimer’s means learning how to tell lots of little, white lies.

    Whenever my father-in-law would get panicky about his Ironworkers union benefits, my wife and I would forge a letter from the union to calm him down. The letter would just say everything was fine and that his benefits would continue unabated. It worked every time, and settled him right down.

  29. #9: I don’t think they refer to patients in an Alzheimer’s facility as “inmates.”

  30. I am a nurse and have worked with dementia or “Memory Care” patients quite a bit. It is painful to see the confusion in their eyes. One of my biggest pet peeves is staff who do not understand and who constantly attempt to redirect the patient. Live with them in their moment. Let them maintain their dignity. Why does someone have to be right, just live in their moment with them.

  31. Ha they pwned the old people, but the chosen one will liberate them one day. When that day comes god help us all.

  32. I used to do something similar in that I’d say I’d call them a taxi to come in 30 min. At that age, that’s more than enough time to forget and stay for activities.a

  33. I painted the double doors leading out from an Alzheimer’s Unit to look like a bookcase complete with books, fishbowl and various pots. The hydraulic door closer was painted to look like a desk lamp. It actually worked too well as the residents kept trying to grab the books and feed the fish. I never did totally finish it, my father was showing signs of having this condition and it was too depressing to be there.

  34. In a community of small villages, if they wander, everyone will know who they are and where they belong. It’s nice. But we don’t live in small village communities. This is a great solution to our situation. Don’t bemoan it.

  35. A nursing home and an assisted living are two different things. An assisted living is like an apartment building for the elderly and you can’t prohibit them from leaving. My son owns one and sometimes he is at his wits end. The residents play Bingo every week and win Bingo bucks with which they can bid on small trinkets. On one occasion, They found one resident about a mile from the facility, she had walked there, trying to buy something at the convenience store with her bingo bucks. You can tell them the reality of things and they nod their heads and seem to understand, but 15 minutes later the memory of that is gone. I cannot imagine how hard it must be to have someone take you forcably from your home and put you in a strange place where you don’t know anyone and nothing is familiar. And all you want to do is go home. I just don’t know what the solution is.

  36. I wish there was a bus-stop-like thing for people over the age of 100; my great-grandmother has no idea where she is or when her parents are coming to get her and has been this way for the past 10 years, trying to escape like the Birdman of Alcatraz all the while. What can we do – put a horse and buggy outside for her?

  37. It’s bittersweet, isn’t it?

    What does it really say? Wouldn’t you want to go home? These places are boring, intellectually sterile, usually smelly, and residents are routinely drugged against their will or realization – often inappropriately, and /or overdosed, and I don’t mean good drugs. Drugs like Haldol et al., drugs that pile brain damage on top of dementia, to make patients easier to handle – by giving them enough brain damage to incapacitate them – usually putting them in wheelchairs or bedridden.

    Funny how, if a normal person is depressed or anxious, the doctor gives them something therapeutic, like anti-depressants or nutriceuticals; but if the same person is in a nursing home, they get hard anti-psychotics that give them brain damage.

    I’d take my mom home in a minute – but my brother let them do just what I described to her, making her dependent on skilled nursing care. $ for the nursing home, impossible to bring home.

    After wresting her from my brother’s “care”, I’ve spent years rehabilitating her, if only to give her as improved quality of life as I could. And even in her enfeebled state, you better believe she still wants to come home.

    You will, too.


    Julie Dole
    Santa Monica, CA
    also on facebook

  38. There are actually good assisted living or nursing homes where the Alzheimer’s resident is allowed to keep his/her dignity and where their quality of life is improved. It is illegal to give them drugs to sedate them unless a doctor and the family approve the drugs; so, it’s certainly on the family if there are drugs being administered. These types of places should be shut down.

    I’ve been in several over the years and have seen all kinds. However, there are great facilities out there that have understanding and caring staff and a comfortable and home-like setting where residents enjoy living. Of course, if you develop dementia, you will certainly long for your previous surroundings, since that is all you know. It’s even sadder when their family doesn’t want them or their home no longer exists. I think the best combination is a safe, comfortable home (that doesn’t ‘smell’ or wrongly administers drugs as others have stated) that meets the resident’s needs and a supportive family that will come daily to talk to the resident.

    Unfortunately many of these residents never see their family after they’re admitted. The family finds it too difficult to see their loved one so ‘changed’ and ‘different’; but, it means the world to the resident, even if they don’t remember the person, to have their family members visit and give them their love. Usually, the residents find that the staff become their family since the real families often abandon them. At least there are good places out there that actually care about the person and their dignity…I’ve worked in them myself and love speding time with the dementia residents. They just need someone to listen to them and love them.

  39. I’ve started a business as an artist painting landscape murals on locked door units in healthcare facilities. The murals consist of an outdoor scene including trees and a waterscape. Not to toot my own horn, but the entire atmosphere of the units change for the better. Patients stopped hanging around the doors, to bang “let me out” and wait for staff/ visitors walk in and out, to exscape. The patients themselves aren’t as agitated. Even the staff seem more pleasant. I’d love to hear opinions and feedback on this.

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