I am very lucky that when I started my career in senior living design, I was surrounded by people who had worked in the industry for a long time, and who were happy to teach me the ins and outs of dementia communities. There were lots of random little things they taught me, like how to get in and out of communities without causing a ruckus.
In dementia communities, doors are secured to avoid residents with cognitive impairments from eloping. Most of the building’s doors are secured with a keypad and possibly a key fob. Sometimes communities are ok with giving visitors the code, others have strict policies that only employees are given it. (This can be important, as some residents who live there may be easily confused for family visitors!)
Often, residents are focused on “going home,” so there can be crowding at exit doors. They may also ask you to help them get “back home,” or ask you to open the door for them. So, how do you set yourself up for success when visiting? Here are our thoughts:
- A dementia community will typically have some sort of doorbell for you to ring when you get to the secured door. Someone on staff will let you into the community, so they will be able to redirect any residents trying to go out.
- If you are entering with a code, make sure the area is clear when you are coming in. When I’ve come in during an install and a resident is trying to get out, I’ll often ask if they can help me with one of my shopping bags because my hands are so full. It takes focus off of the door long enough for me to get in and the door shut behind me. If it doesn’t seem like this tip will work, wait calmly outside for a staff member to come and assist you.
- Make sure you get through the door quickly, as many doors have a timer set that will alarm after a certain amount of time (typically 10-15 seconds).
- Whenever you are leaving, be sure to look around you and make sure no one is close enough to slip out the door with you.
- Once outside, make sure the door is secured. I usually pull the door shut and then try the handle to make sure it’s latched.
- If a resident is following you to the door and asking to go out with you, find someone on staff who can distract them and take them to another part of the community.
- If someone is asking to come out with you, and you are unsure if the person is a resident or visitor, always err on the side of caution. To avoid offending, say something like “Oh, I need to get someone, I don’t know how to get out.” Staff will know who is a resident and who is not.
- It’s not a bad idea to get familiar with the residents who hang out around exit doors. By knowing their names, likes and dislikes, you can easily make conversation and probably calm a person who may be agitated or anxious about leaving.