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

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?

3 thoughts on “Behavioral Geography: What Does Your Nursing Home Map Look Like?”

  1. Interesting that you write about this. I have often tried to explain to Residents that the lay of the land in a Nursing Home could be seen (in the mind’s eye) as a microcosm of sorts for the outside world.

    getting to the drawers or bathroom (within room)….” going upstairs”
    Independently mobilizing wheelchair….”going for a walk, doing laps”
    Getting wheeled somewhere…”.hitchhiking or catching a cab”
    dining room….”restaurant”
    Computer……Post Office
    Shower room……Spa (LOVE LOVE the idea of a dedicated shower aide only!!!)
    Out trip….vacation get away
    excursions to other areas of a community (Assisted Living/ independent Living…….going to neighboring towns

    Not sure how relevant this is to enlarging the behavioral map, but it does resonate with some of my residents……hahaha

    • Genie, I love your expansion of this idea! Sometimes when residents get aggravated with the wait to get to and from recreational activities, I tell them, “Pretend you’re headed into the city for a concert and you hit traffic.” The nursing home is very much a microcosm of the outside world.


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