I'm not getting off this bus.


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“I won’t, I know it’s a trick, I want to go home and I won’t get off this bus until it takes me there,” she said.

This was, by far, the most challenging encounter I’ve had with a person with dementia. She had just come back from a doctor’s appointment, and the bus was parked outside of our Clare Bridge. This, however, was not where she wanted to be. “I’m not going in there. I’m not getting off this bus,” she said, sitting with her arms folded. It had already been about a half hour of this when I arrived on the scene. After a couple minutes of thinking and talking to her, I asked, “Okay, where do you want to go?” “I want to go back to where I was,” she said, which of course was a doctor’s office. It was clear that she wasn’t sure where she wanted to go, but either way, this bus had to go somewhere. “I hate hotels, I am not going to stay here!” she exclaimed.

I paused, and went to the bus driver. “Can you drive us around for five minutes and then park in the back of this building?” I asked. He was probably exhausted with this already, but he was a good sport. “Sure.” He did exactly that, and I attempted to talk with my resident on the way. She was frustrated and wasn’t giving me much in the way of conversation. We arrived at the back of the building. “Where is this! I don’t want to be here, I want to go home…no one listens to me, why did my granddaughter put me here? I raised that girl…why am I here…” she went on. 

It was nearing another half hour before I was able to find something that may work to coax her off the bus. “Okay, this is where the bus stops,” I said. “You know how buses have routes, and this is where this one ends. We need to get on another bus.” “No,” she said, “I know that you’re trying to trick me and I won’t get off this bus!” I sighed. “Okay, how about this? We can either stay here overnight, I can get a cab, or we can rent a car, but in any case, we have got to get off this bus.” Something seemed to click as she realized that we had to leave the bus. I understood now that she didn’t want to be left alone. “You’ll stay with me, right? When you get the car? You’ll travel with me,” she said. “I’m right here,” I said. 

We finally got inside. I sat with her and talked. I then went and got her favorite tea and a piece of cake, since she had missed the usual dinner hour. Suddenly, she was peaceful again. It seemed as though the concerns about the bus had washed away, and she was all smiles for the rest of the evening.

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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