Fake station and train helps soothe Alzheimer sufferers

Railway destination board blue screen
SNCF railway destination board at Amiens station

Patients have an irresistible desire to wander – so care home helps organise their ‘escape’

A care home in France has set up a replica railway station complete with carriage and seats to help Alzheimer’s sufferers by stimulating memories of past journeys.

‘Travel therapy’ is an idea already in use in Italy and Switzerland and the Ehpad Notre Dame de la Treille, in Valenciennes, Nord, is the first to test it in France.

It has been in use since the start of autumn last year and residents are asked where they want to go and, with the help of a carer or family member, go to the ‘station’ and buy a ticket for destinations such as Nice, Paris, Marseille and even Amiens, Maubeuge or La Briquette.

They wait on authentic benches in a ‘waiting room’ complete with a station clock and trompe l’oeil travellers’ suitcases and destination board and wait for their ‘train’ arriving. They get into a compartment and sit on authentic rail wagon seats with headrests and luggage rack for the journey.

Authentic notices warn “Ne jeter aucun objet par la fenêtre” and once the journey is started, a TV screen shows the passing countryside for a journey that lasts up to 45min.

Interior of mock railway ticket office and train
The mock ticket office and train set up by the care home in Valenciennes is mostly trompe l'oeil

Emmanuelle Tiry, the home director, said Alzheimer sufferers had an irresistible desire to walk – called wandering – and could easily walk 10km. “To calm this need to get away, we do not give medicine, we organise their escape.”

She added it was a “soothing” experience: “This is a magnificent and surprising idea which has been proven to be worthwhile.

“We do not force anyone, we just follow their wishes. Some people will not go for it but it will reassure them, knowing that whatever else, they can go if they wish.”

Once on their ‘journey’ residents are invited to knit or read as they would on an ordinary trip and Ms Tiry said that the therapy woke up memories for them and gave moments of calm with less aggression – with the result that they needed less anti-anxiety medication afterwards and had less need to wander.

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In Italy, an Alzheimer’s unit in Milan has almost 100 patients who have been on virtual journeys and one of their doctors said that wandering had been cut by 30% and drug use cut by 40% while patients reported regaining the pleasure of eating and a reduction in chronic pain.

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