Behavioral Geography: What Does Your Nursing Home Map Look Like?

Posted by Dr. El - October 27, 2011 - For Fun, Personal Reflections - 3 Comments

When I was in college at the State University of New York at Albany, I took an intriguing course called Behavioral Geography. The professor taught us that how we used a place affected the way we mapped it in our brains. One of our assignments was to ask people we knew from different groups to draw a map of the city of Albany. The students I asked invariably featured the University prominently, and included lots of details like the apartments of friends, well-known downtown buildings, and favorite watering holes. My other group of maps came from patrons of the local Woolworth’s lunch counter where I served up coffee and tuna melts to pay for college expenses. (Yeah, this was back in the days of Woolworth’s, a now-defunct Walmart-ish store.) The people who frequented the lunch counter were mostly working class locals and outpatients from the local psychiatric center, and this really fun homeless guy who rolled cigarettes in the paper napkins, which let out plumes of smoke. (Yeah, this was in the days when you could smoke at a lunch counter in New York.) The maps drawn by my lunch counter friends were devoid of details such as street names and landmarks. My homeless man drew a single line with an X to represent the Woolworth’s on Central Avenue. I was shocked, and fascinated, by the disparity between the groups.

Now imagine drawing maps of the nursing home. My map, and those of staff members who work on many units like I do, would show lots of details – we get around the place. Other staff members, with specific floor assignments, might show the lobby, the lunchroom, and their particular floor. And what about the residents? The lucky few with motorized scooters or the ability to wheel themselves around might show their floor, the recreation area, rehab, and the backyard. Those with limited mobility might draw their floors and the recreation area if they attend scheduled activities. But I imagine others, if they could, would draw only their rooms, the shower room, and the dining area. Just a line with three Xs. What can we do to enlarge their worlds?