Elderly patients often wander away into dangerous scenarios due to temporary confusion or disorientation. In serious cases, it becomes enough of a problem that patients have to be locked in for their own safety, a decision hard on patients and caretakers alike. The Benrath Senior Center in Düsseldorf, Germany came up with "an idea so simple you almost think it wouldn't work."
Here's the full Radiolab short:
The bus stop idea is a beautiful method of mitigating a widespread fear of assisted living. I love this story and I especially like the idea Radiolab is conveying here about natural, personal, ways of assisting the confused or delirious.
In that spirit of support, however, I would object to Lulu and Jad’s stated assumption that the bus stop is a "lie". No one deliberately deceives the patients into waiting at the bench or tells them that something is going to happen if they go there. We think of it as a lie because, to us, the important part is our expectations about the bus: when it comes and where it goes. It’s a lie to have a bench and a sign marking a bus stop if you deceive me into not getting home from work on time.
For the seniors, the important part is only that a bus will (probably) come. They have a sense of urgency or deep anxiety that needs to be resolved, and the bus stop is a symbolic destination signaling that they’ve begun to solve the problem by taking action. They see a familiar roadside bench that symbolizes “going places” without actually going anyplace. While you’re waiting for the bus, that’s as fast and as far as you can go; you have to wait because you can’t control the bus and nothing you do matters until it arrives, so you might as well relax. That's why there's a bench.
The bench and the sign are first and foremost physical truths and lies second, insofar as our superficial expectation. This bench relaxes anxious minds as much as bodies. A burden is lifted because there’s no sense worrying until the bus comes, so a forgetful mind easily ambles along to enjoy the beautiful outdoors for a while...
Putting it another way, the bus stop is at least a “truth” in the patient’s dream-world as Lulu and the nurse Regine describe. I hope this kind of remedial mental treatment catches on and more people learn about the success of simple, non-invasive solutions like the bus stop.
Lab notes: "The Bus Stop" and "Do I Know You?" podcast shorts follow the most recent Radiolab episode, "Lucy".