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Why Some Alzheimer’s Patients Have Doors Disguised as Bookcases

Doors prevent wandering by 'exit seeking' residents in memory care


Part of the Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Personal Stories, Research, Advice Special Report

“Is this a good idea? A cruel joke?” asked recent commenters on a Reddit thread with a photo of a disguised exit door posted at the top.d1fbfbd1edd0ceac9809a4834215225b

The answer is yes, it is a good idea, and it's no joke — assuming that door is inside a memory care or Alzheimer’s unit of a senior care facility, which was the case with the door in question.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association brochure titled, “Campaign for Quality Residential Care’s 'Dementia Care Practice,'” people living with Alzheimer’s in care facilities often exhibit a behavior described as “exit seeking” — the strong desire to leave the building and wander. Since wandering poses a serious health risk, making exits less obvious reduces visual cues for exiting.

The Alzheimer's Association brochure describes exit-seeking as normal and quite understandable:

“It can result from the resident’s desire to return to a secure, familiar home or former workplace. The resident may be trying to reconnect with family members or may be following old habits, such as leaving for work in the afternoon. The resident may be drawn outside by a sunny day or have a desire for fresh air or a daily walk."

In addition to many other strategies to prevent residents from wandering (and with the OK from the fire marshall), the Alzheimer's Association encourages  care centers to disguise exits in ways that also bring beauty to a clinical setting.

An added bonus? The murals and exit doors often beautify an otherwise sterile institutional space and bring a sense of peace to the residents. See a few examples for yourself in our slideshow of exit doors that were redesigned to accommodate people with dementia and Alzheimer's:

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Meadow Scene Doors at Fairhaven Residential Care in British Columbia, Canada.

Disguised doors

Exit Doors at a Memory Care Facility in Ontario

Doors designed by Karen Romeril, Creative Art, Ontario. Doors designed by Karen Romeril, Creative Art, Ontario.

Door as a Meadow at Arista Care in Whiting, N.J.

Disguised door

Before and After Images From Just a Memory, Australia

Exit doors

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“Is this a good idea? A cruel joke?” asked recent commenters on a Reddit thread with a photo of a disguised exit door posted at the top.d1fbfbd1edd0ceac9809a4834215225b

The answer is yes, it is a good idea, and it’s no joke — assuming that door is inside a memory care or Alzheimer’s unit of a senior care facility, which was the case with the door in question.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association brochure titled, “Campaign for Quality Residential Care’s ‘Dementia Care Practice,’” people living with Alzheimer’s in care facilities often exhibit a behavior described as “exit seeking” — the strong desire to leave the building and wander. Since wandering poses a serious health risk, making exits less obvious reduces visual cues for exiting.

The Alzheimer’s Association brochure describes exit-seeking as normal and quite understandable:

“It can result from the resident’s desire to return to a secure, familiar home or former workplace. The resident may be trying to reconnect with family members or may be following old habits, such as leaving for work in the afternoon. The resident may be drawn outside by a sunny day or have a desire for fresh air or a daily walk.”

In addition to many other strategies to prevent residents from wandering (and with the OK from the fire marshall), the Alzheimer’s Association encourages  care centers to disguise exits in ways that also bring beauty to a clinical setting.

An added bonus? The murals and exit doors often beautify an otherwise sterile institutional space and bring a sense of peace to the residents. See a few examples for yourself in our slideshow of exit doors that were redesigned to accommodate people with dementia and Alzheimer’s:

By Shayla Stern
Shayla, the Director of Editorial and Content for Next Avenue, has spent a career in digital media journalism and content marketing strategy at organizations including washingtonpost.comEdmunds.comCars.com and Fast Horse and as a media professor at the University of Minnesota and DePaul University. She has a Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of Iowa and has published extensive research on social media and gender. Based at Twin Cities PBS,  Shayla can be reached by email at [email protected].@shayla_stern

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