Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Helping the senile by pranking them?

Contexts.org has a report, first publicized on Radio Lab, about a German retirement home that came up with a creative way of helping residents with dementia, who try to leave to go "home" to places they used to live, often believing that loved ones are anxiously waiting for them to arrive.

"When they catch the escapee in time, the patient is often extremely upset and an altercation ensues. If they don’t catch them in time, the patient often hops onto public transportation and is eventually discovered by police. The first outcome is, of course, traumatizing for everyone involved and the second outcome is very dangerous for the patient. Most nursing homes fix this problem by confining patients who’ve began to wander off to a locked ward and resigning themselves to physically or chemically restraining a desperate and emotionally-wrought patient."

The solution that is best for everyone and causes the least problems? Create a fake bus stop outside the building.

From the contexts.org site: "The fake bus stop does two wonderful things:

(1) The first thing a potential escapee does when they decide to “go home” is find a bus stop. So, patients who take off usually get no further than the first bus stop that they see. ”Where did Mrs. Schmidt go?” “Oh, she’s at the bus stop.” In practice, it worked tremendously. This meant that many disoriented patients no longer needed to be kept in locked wards.

(2) The bus stop diffuses the sense of panic. If a delusional patient decided that she needed to go home immediately because her children were all alone and waiting for her, the attendant didn’t need to restrain her or talk her out of it, she simply said, “Oh, well… there’s the bus stop.” The patient would go sit and wait. Knowing that she was on her way home, she would relax and, given her diminished cognition, she would eventually forget why she was there. A little while later the attendant could go out and ask her if she wanted to come in for tea. And she would say, “Ok.”

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