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Why Some Alzheimer's Patients Have Doors Disguised as Bookcases

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

By Shayla Thiel Stern

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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.


“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.

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:

Shayla Thiel Sternis the former Director of Editorial and Content for Next Avenue at Twin Cities PBS. Read More
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