A father-son duo’s ingenious creation is helping people with dementia travel back in time.
The build by Steve Geach and his son Liam, who run a series of care homes in Hampshire, is an ‘Orient Express’ style train carriage, which they designed themselves before a carpenter installed the set in their Oakview care home.
While Steve provided the sketches of what he wanted the carriage to look like, Liam took care of the tech: a pair of TV screens inside the carriage that show rolling footage of the countryside flying past, so it really feels like you’re on an old-fashioned train.
Liam tells HuffPost UK: “Where we’ve kept so close to the reality of the experience – even the lamps are originals from the Orient Express – the clients have found it absolutely fantastic. We’ve had clients waiting at the doors to be admitted by our activities assistant, as if they’re waiting at the platform.”
The pair are keen to use technology to enhance the lives of residents and help them take a trip down memory lane – particularly as, back in the day, most holidays would’ve started by boarding a train.
When Steve first started running care homes, he noticed a lot of residents with dementia often became confused about their whereabouts – they’d feel the urge to leave and sit at a bus stop to try and get home. It was awful to have to tell people with dementia every 10 minutes that they couldn’t travel back to see their mum because she was no longer alive, says Steve.
To avoid this cycle of heartbreak and upset, he decided to fit a bus stop within the Willow Lodge care home. Residents could go there, sit for a moment and have a sandwich while they waited for a bus. It provided a safe means of escape, if only for a while.
His next project was a basic version of a train carriage at the Shedfield Lodge care home. The “carriage” comprised of two arm chairs with a table and TV screen showing rolling countryside, with curtains either side of the screen.
But the Orient Express train carriage installation is their biggest venture yet, taking a month to create and costing around £8,000. The carriage can seat eight people, so residents can invite family and friends along (or even host a party) and the care home’s staff provide a silver service afternoon tea to bring the five-star experience to life.
The synchronised screens show eight different types of scenery, including one through the Rocky Mountains, Liam explains. They also reflect the different seasons and weather conditions – so if it’s actually snowing outside, the visuals in the train carriage will reflect that too. No detail has been overlooked. “We have sound to go with it too,” says Liam. “You can hear the metal on the tracks, all bringing the 1920s carriage to life. They really do believe they are on a train.”
Realistically it can be hard to take clients with dementia on an actual train, says Steve, as their illness can sometimes mean they become rude or aggressive – or frightened. These installations help residents escape the confines of care home life into another world, while keeping them safe and comfortable.
Steve and Liam also use VR headsets, which clients can wear to revisit the streets where they use to play in as children. Those who are bed-bound can take a trip to the seaside without having to leave their room. At Hunters Lodge care home, an installation in the garden with sand and beach huts hark back to the days when people would flock to British seaside resorts. “It’s all about being person-centred,” says Steve, “and bringing outside experiences to them.”
Other care homes have previously installed care homes – at Gateway care home in Bradford, residents ride the Gateway Express – and since a video of the Orient Express carriage at Oakview was shared on social media, the Geaches have been contacted by other owners interested in adopting something similar.
“There are many homes that would benefit from this,” adds Steve, who is happy to share his designs and offer consultation for free to others. “I came into this industry in 1996 for the absolute genuine love of elderly people,” he says – but “the tech didn’t exist.” Ultimately, he wants to use technology as a force for good and “enable elderly people to have the best final years possible”.