A bus stop in my dementia ward? It's just the ticket, says BONNIE ESTRIDGE

A few weeks ago, a bus stop appeared slap bang in the middle of the dementia ward at my local hospital, St George’s in London. There it was, complete with the iconic red circle on the sign and a seated area beside it.

It’s not what you expect to see while waiting to see the doctor.

But I wasn’t there for an appointment. In fact, my long-suffering husband Chris and I had been invited to view this bus stop. Former Labour MP Heidi Alexander – who now works at City Hall under Mayor of London Sadiq Khan – was there to greet us, and asked us what we thought.

We chatted away and I have to say that, at first I was rather unsure about the project.

I found myself gazing at the thing, which seems so out of place on a busy hospital ward, and thinking: why?

This, as I soon discovered, is sort of the point.

BONNIE ESTRIDGE: A few weeks ago, a bus stop appeared slap bang in the middle of the dementia ward at my local hospital, St George¿s in London

BONNIE ESTRIDGE: A few weeks ago, a bus stop appeared slap bang in the middle of the dementia ward at my local hospital, St George’s in London

A medical ward can be a confusing place to be. Corridors all look the same. Everyone is rushing about. It’s all rather discombobulating.

A bus stop is one of the most familiar ‘landmarks’ around. We all know what they look like.

There is something reassuring about it – when everything might seem alien and baffling.

In Germany, where the idea was pioneered, it was discovered that placing fake bus stops in dementia wards stopped agitated and confused patients from wandering off and getting lost.

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I’m not at the stage yet where I’ve felt very lost or anxious while I’m on the ward.

But it has happened elsewhere.

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 travelled 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.

Fortunately Chris stepped in.

If I’d been on my own, I’d have become quite upset. And so I do understand why something so recognisable 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. 

It will give patients who are experiencing that kind of awful confusion somewhere ‘safe’ to sit and collect themselves. I would recommend all hospitals who treat us A-Word types to take note, as it’s a great initiative.

The dementia ward bus stop is all part of the Mayor of London’s initiative to make the city a more dementia-friendly place.

Bus drivers in the capital are being trained as Dementia Friends: they’re being taught how to better spot people with the condition at real bus stops looking lost, and perhaps in need of some help.

I think it’s a great idea, and if Sadiq wants to make London a dementia-friendly city, I’m all for it.

In other news, I went to see the Elton John biopic, Rocketman, last week.

As readers of this column will know, I was a big fan of the recent Queen film, Bohemian Rhapsody. So much so, in fact, that I’ve been watching it on repeat ever since seeing it a few months back (sorry, Chris).

At the time of writing, I’ve undoubtedly watched it more than 20 times. I still struggle to remember the exact details of the plot. But it’s such a feelgood film and the music is terrific, which is what I think keeps me coming back.

So I was keen to see Rocketman – not least because Elton and I have a bit of a history. When I worked for Woman magazine in the late 1970s, I interviewed him at his home near Windsor.

It was done up like an art gallery, as I recall, filled with antiques and pop paraphernalia, with hardly a patch of wall showing between the paintings, posters and gilded mirrors.

Before I left, he played The Beatles’ Lucy in The Sky With Diamonds for us on his grand piano. I was in heaven.

So I had high hopes for the film, which I’m sorry to say were dashed.

I didn’t like it at all. I think my main issue might have been that it’s not actually Elton singing (in Bohemian Rhapsody, at least they used some recordings of Freddie Mercury’s actual vocals).

The magic, for me, was lost.

So I won’t be watching it again – which Chris will be delighted to hear.

Now where did I put my copy of Queen’s Greatest Hits…?


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