There’s a bus stop in the dementia ward in St. George’s Hospital in London.

Now, you can’t actually take a double decker into the hospital itself, but you can sit at a replica bus stop, complete with the transit sign familiar to Londoners, as you wait for the doctor. 

St. George’s mid-hospital bus stop is just one example of familiar signs being used as dementia aids.

So why a faux bus stop in the middle of a hospital ward?

It might seem wildly out of place at first glance, but there’s reasoning behind it. For dementia patients, a fast-paced hospital can seem disorienting, scary, and overwhelming. A bus stop, however, is one of the landmarks they’re most familiar with.

St. George’s mid-hospital bus stop is just one example of familiar signs being used as dementia aids. The idea began at the Benrath Senior Center in Duesseldorf, Germany, where staff built a bus stop in front of the clinic to help stop residents from wandering off.

Often, when memory-loss patients feel disoriented or upset, they have the urge to just go home. Staff found that the faux bus stop in front of the facility helped calm residents’ anxieties. They’d go sit there in an attempt to wait for public transit, at which point staff members could come sit and soothe them and convince them gently to come back inside.

“We will approach them and say that the bus is coming later and invite them in for a coffee,” Richard Neureither, Benrath’s director, told Alz live

Here in the United States, The Bridges by EPOCH memory-care facility in Hingham, Massachusetts, came up with the same idea: A “bus stop to nowhere” sits in its courtyard and affords people with dementia a peaceful place to stop and relax.

Other centers here in the U.S. are implementing some practices that are similar, if not exactly the same. Ohio’s Chagrin Valley assisted living facility is designed to look like an American town square of ages past.

Residents can walk around faux-grass pathways, so even the most restless among them can feel like they’re getting a stroll around town instead of remaining stuck in a facility.

The Netherlands, Italy, Canada, and Australia also have similar assisted living facilities, where residents can experience rooms or common areas that are decorated the way they would have been when the residents were younger. 

Stimulated Presence Therapy

Stimulated Presence Therapy, a practice that originated in Boston, uses another technique to ease the agitation of patients with dementia: an audio recording of a loved one that functions as a one-sided conversation from a familiar source.

Often, the loved one will tell a story the patient might recognize, or recall a fond memory of them. Patients are given the recording to listen to with headphones, and depending on the severity of their memory loss, plenty of them will return to it day after day or even hour after hour for comfort.

The effect can be so profound that there are cases of patients who were previously medicated to relieve agitation weaning off their meds entirely since the Stimulated Presence Therapy can be so calming.

Some of these simulations have paved the way for real-life practices, as well. In London, bus drivers are being trained to spot dementia patients at actual bus stations, and how to assist them if they actually are lost and disoriented

“Just recently when I came back from Barcelona, when I was going through passport control, the man behind the counter asked me where I had traveled from. I had absolutely no idea. Not a clue. Total blank. It was like I was suddenly drifting — it’s almost like a hallucination, where you suddenly wonder if anything is real,” dementia patient Bonnie Estridge wrote in the Daily Mail. Thankfully, her partner was there and able to help.

“If I’d been on my own, I’d have become quite upset. And so I do understand why something so recognizable and anchoring like a bus stop – even if it’s totally out of place in the middle of a hospital ward – can be hugely comforting.”