Mar 23, 2010

The Bus Stop

There’s a common problem faced by Alzheimer's and Dementia patients all over the world: lost in their memories, they sometimes get disoriented, and wander off. In this podcast, Lulu Miller talks to a nursing home in Düsseldorf, Germany that came up with a novel solution.

When an Alzheimer's or Dementia patient wanders, they can end up too far from home, frightened, or hurt. So what are you supposed to do if your loved one--a parent, a grandparent--begins to wander in this way? Often times the only solution is to lock them up. Which just feels cruel. But what else are you supposed to do if you want to keep them safe?

Well, the Benrath Senior Center, came up with a new idea. An idea so simple you almost think it couldn't work. Producer Lulu Miller talks to Richard Neureither and Regine Hauch about what they've done in Düsseldorf.

THE LAB sticker

Unlock member-only exclusives and support the show

Exclusive Podcast Extras
Entire Podcast Archive
Listen Ad-Free
Behind-the-Scenes Content
Video Extras
Original Music & Playlists

Speaker 1:

Listener supported. WNYC Studios.

 

Speaker 1:

Wait, you're...

 

Speaker 1:

Okay.

 

Speaker 1:

All right.

 

Speaker 1:

Okay.

 

Speaker 1:

All right.

 

Speaker 1:

You're...

 

Speaker 1:

Listening...

 

Speaker 1:

To Radiolab.

 

Speaker 1:

Radiolab.

 

Speaker 1:

Shorts!

 

Speaker 1:

From...

 

Speaker 1:

WNY...

 

Speaker 1:

C.

 

Speaker 1:

Si?

 

Speaker 1:

Yes.

 

Speaker 1:

And NPR.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is Radiolab, the podcast, and today we thought we would-

 

Robert Krulwich:

We would tell a lie.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Right.

 

Robert Krulwich:

That's what we're going to... We're going to-

 

Jad Abumrad:

You know what?

 

Robert Krulwich:

I think we should get on with it.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yes, this one comes to us from our producer, Lulu Miller.

 

Lulu Miller:

All right, so I'm going to tell you a story.

 

Speaker 2:

[German 00:00:01:03].

 

Lulu Miller:

It takes place in Germany.

 

Speaker 3:

[German 00:01:08].

 

Lulu Miller:

At an old folks' home.

 

Regina Hau:

[German 00:01:10]

 

Lulu Miller:

And that's not where we are right now, but we've brought two of the people who work at the home into a studio.

 

Regina Hau:

We have to close the door otherwise-

 

Lulu Miller:

Yeah, it sounds like you're having a party over there.

 

Lulu Miller:

So the story really belongs to this guy Richard Neureiter. He's the director of the home which is called Benrath Senior Center.

 

Richard Neureiter:

In Dusseldorf.

 

Lulu Miller:

But we've also brought Regin in.

 

Regina Hau:

Regina Hau.

 

Lulu Miller:

Who also works at the home and speaks more English.

 

Regina Hau:

I'd just help Mr. Neureiter translate. Shall we do it like this?

 

Lulu Miller:

Yeah.

 

Regina Hau:

Okay.

 

Lulu Miller:

So Mr. Neureiter has a problem.

 

Richard Neureiter:

[German 00:01:45].

 

Lulu Miller:

It's a problem most nursing homes face.

 

Regina Hau:

Which is that many people who develop dementia, Alzheimer.

 

Lulu Miller:

They'll become disoriented and confused and suddenly think-

 

Regina Hau:

"Where am I?" and "This is not my world" and "I have to go back to my house my children are waiting for me" and-

 

Lulu Miller:

And usually nurses will intercept them...

 

Regina Hau:

"Relax, you are living here"

 

Lulu Miller:

But occasionally people somehow slip out the front door.

 

Regina Hau:

Yeah, escapes they happen.

 

Lulu Miller:

And then they wander. They had one woman make it onto a bus.

 

Regina Hau:

And she escaped about how many kilometers?

 

Lulu Miller:

She eventually made it to a town about 20 miles away. They've had people turn up at grocery stores, wandering in the forest. They've even had people make it all the way back to their old houses and find new people living there. And for the people who work at the home, says Regin:

 

Regina Hau:

You get crazy not knowing where is the person and where did she go.

 

Lulu Miller:

Test, test, test, test. This is something we all know about. You do you guys know I'm working on this story about the Alzheimer's. Yes. And while reporting this piece, I was checking in with my parents about some stories like this. What happened to my grandpa? Well, well, and they told me one I never heard.

 

Lulu's Mother:

One morning...

 

Lulu's Father:

This was in February.

 

Lulu's Mother:

Yes. This was on a very, very frigid cold morning.

 

Lulu Miller:

My grandpa got up...

 

Lulu's Mother:

at 5:00 in the morning.

 

Lulu Miller:

Left the house and walked to the train station. You probably got the earliest T took it all the way out to Cambridge because he thought he had to teach a class at Harvard.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Did he use to teach at Harvard?

 

Lulu Miller:

No, but he'd given lectures there. So anyway, it's pitch dark early in the morning, frigid, Boston weather.

 

Lulu's Mother:

And he was only in his long underwear with his coat and hat and scarf on over that.

 

Lulu Miller:

He didn't even have shoes on. He was just wearing a slipper.

 

Lulu's Mother:

He was picked up by the police because he was...

 

Lulu's Father:

Hypothermic.

 

Lulu Miller:

He was hypothermic?

 

Lulu's Father:

He was hypothermic. I mean, when they brought him into the hospital, his temperature was too low.

 

Lulu Miller:

I did not know that.

 

Lulu's Mother:

It was the moment when I knew that you know, that everything was going to have to change, that he would have to move into a place that had a floor for people who were suffering-

 

Lulu's Father:

A locked floor. That's what it meant.

 

Lulu Miller:

So, that essentially is the problem.

 

Regina Hau:

Some people have to, to be locked in which just feels cruel. Yeah. It's horrible. Yeah, it is.

 

Lulu Miller:

And then in walks a fellow named Mr. Gooble.

 

Regina Hau:

No, no, no, Gurbel not Gooble. Gooble sounds really awful.

 

Lulu Miller:

Oh really? Okay.

 

Regina Hau:

Try to make it more like Gurbel.

 

Lulu Miller:

Gurbel.

 

Regina Hau:

Yeah, bravo!

 

Lulu Miller:

Okay, Mr. Gooble.

 

Regina Hau:

No!

 

Lulu Miller:

No? Okay. We'll just use you saying it. We'll do your Mr.-

 

Regina Hau:

Mr. Gurbel.

 

Lulu Miller:

Okay. So, Mr. Gurbel was an older gentleman. He sat on an advisory board at the senior center, and one day he came up with this idea. That's Richard Neureiter again. And it's one of these ideas that's so out there and yet so simple that you think it just couldn't possibly work.

 

Regina Hau:

When Mr. Gurbel came into the office of Richard and presented his idea, Richard was just laughing.

 

Richard Neureiter:

[German 00:05:27].

 

Regina Hau:

He thought it's very funny. What a funny idea.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Well, what is it already? What's the idea?

 

Lulu Miller:

Well, Mr. Gurbel thought that right in front of the home, they should build a bus stop.

 

Regina Hau:

A bus stop.

 

Jad Abumrad:

What? Build a bus st... I don't understand. What would that do?

 

Lulu Miller:

Well, think about what a bus stop is.

 

Regina Hau:

When you see a bus stop, it's the first step into the wide world from the little bus stop you get anywhere.

 

Lulu Miller:

Regin says that in a lot of these wandering cases, the first place people often head is to a bus stop. And so back to our friend, Mr. Gurbel, he thought what they should do is build a bus stop, right in front of the home, that has just one crucially odd feature.

 

Regina Hau:

And there's no bus coming.

 

Lulu Miller:

No bus?

 

Regina Hau:

Never. It's the bus stop to nowhere.

 

Lulu Miller:

So his thought was, it would be a way of catching people who happened to wander. They'd see the bus stop, go and sit on it, waiting for a bus that would never come and then eventually a staff member could see them and bring them back. So while Richard's first thought was, this is ridiculous.

 

Regina Hau:

Second thought was: "hmm maybe not that bad".

 

Lulu Miller:

So they bolted in a bench, made of iron, put up a sign in yellow and green, just like every government issued bus stop.

 

Regina Hau:

And when you get out of the home, you see it immediately.

 

Lulu Miller:

And the staff, said Richard and Regin, just thought this was a stupid idea.

 

Regina Hau:

It's not appropriate. Or it's even cynical.

 

Lulu Miller:

And most of all, that it probably just wouldn't work.

 

Richard Neureiter:

Yeah.

 

Lulu Miller:

And at first it looked like they were right.

 

Regina Hau:

One by one, the neighbors, normal people, they said, "Oh, a new bus stop" and they waited there for the bus. And so, one by one, Richard would have to run out and explain. "No, that's not for you".

 

Lulu Miller:

So, there was this period of adjustment. And then one day, and now one lady, an actual patient from the home started having an episode.

 

Regina Hau:

She was very troubled-

 

Lulu Miller:

In her mind, she was a little girl and she needed to get home to her parents.

 

Regina Hau:

"My mother waits for me. I have to go home, very quick". The nurses talk to her and try to calm her down. But she began to cry.

 

Lulu Miller:

So they thought, well, let's just let her walk out.

 

Regina Hau:

It was fall. It was rather cold. So she went to the bus stop in her coat and her hat. And she sat there very patient and she waited for the bus.

 

Regina Hau:

In the fresh air, sun shining.

 

Lulu Miller:

And eventually a nurse came over and sat with her.

 

Regina Hau:

And they waited together side by side.

 

Lulu Miller:

Eventually she forgot why she was there.

 

Regina Hau:

The nurse said, we go in and have a cup of tea together. And then she came back and everything was fine. She was relaxed. She was in the present time. Not longer in the pastime.

 

Lulu Miller:

It's been two years since the bench first went up and Richard and Regin say, they use it all the time. Every couple of days, sometimes the nurses will take someone who's upset and wants to go home.

 

Regina Hau:

The nurses say, "let's go to the bus stop. Let's see what we will do and how we plan the day". Or sometime the nurses don't see that somebody escaped and they say, "Oh, where is Mrs. Smith?" and then they look out over the wall. She's waiting for the bus and somebody goes there.

 

Lulu Miller:

But one thing is always the same. When the people get to the bus stop, the mood is very dark.

 

Regina Hau:

"I'm feeling so lonely. I want to go home"

 

Lulu Miller:

And also urgent.

 

Regina Hau:

"My parents wait for me. My children wait for me. I have to go there quick, quick, quick"

 

Lulu Miller:

But then after a while, as they're sitting they're thinking their escape is on the way, that urgent feeling...

 

Regina Hau:

disappears.

 

Lulu Miller:

Do you know why? Or can I guess, can you describe it disappearing? Like, does it go away slowly or suddenly?

 

Regina Hau:

Richard says it's like another thought comes up and then you forget what you wanted. It's like fishes coming up to the surface of the water, and then going down again and disappearing. Thoughts come up and they disappear. Then you don't know that they have ever been there. You'll forget.

 

Lulu Miller:

Which is, it's interesting. It's the forgetting is both the problem and the solution.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But Lulu. I mean, isn't this maybe a little bit cruel because it is a lie that's happening here. I mean, they are lying to these people.

 

Lulu Miller:

Well, sure. It's definitely a lie. There's no way around that. But what's the alternative. I mean, take that woman at the bus stop. What are you supposed to say to her?

 

Lulu Miller:

"I know that you're utterly convinced of this, but actually you're not a little girl. You live in a nursing home". As you can imagine, these kinds of conversations don't go well. They say sometimes they have to restrain the people...

 

Regina Hau:

hold them back, call the police. They don't accept it because it's not their world. It's two completely different worlds.

 

Lulu Miller:

And so they say, why not just allow that other world to be true for just a beat and then gently coax them back.

 

Regina Hau:

That's the aim of the whole thing: to lead those memories very gently into this "Now", this "Today".

 

Lulu Miller:

And this idea has sort of spread at the nursing home. It changed the atmosphere in the home. Now they try to do this sort of time shifting in all different ways.

 

Regina Hau:

Sounds a little bit complicated, but it isn't.

 

Lulu Miller:

For example, they had this guy, who's a Baker who always used to want to get up at 2:00 in the morning. And they used to say, "No, go back, go back to bed. We're working". But now they just say, "Okay". And they let them get up every day at 2:00. They take him to the kitchen and let him bake.

 

Regina Hau:

And then he says, "Well, I'm always in time and I'm proud I never miss an hour of my work".

 

Lulu Miller:

And the interesting part for me is that I think about my grandpa wandering through the cold and his slippers. And here's this way in which people can be somewhat lost in their memories and yet exist in the present...

 

Jad Abumrad:

safely...

 

Lulu Miller:

safely.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's our producer, Lulu Miller, with the music choice. If you want to know anything more about the Benrath Senior Center in Dusseldorf, Germany, check our website, radiolab.org. I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Thanks for listening.

 

Speaker 4:

Message two:

 

Speaker 4:

And this message:

Copyright © 2020 New York Public Radio. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use at www.wnyc.org for further information.

New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.



-30-