Nursing Home Resurrects Communist East Germany to Battle Dementia

Creating a comfortable, familiar atmosphere for residents with dementia and other memory issues remains an ongoing challenge for many skilled nursing providers — but for one operator in Germany, the task required skills more typically associated with museum curators than health providers.

The AlexA Residence for Senior Citizens in Dresden collected artifacts from the German Democratic Republic — better known to Westerners as Communist East Germany during the Cold War — to help its dementia patients relive a taste of their pasts.

Residents like 93-year-old Gerda Noack, for instance, can visit a replica of a government-run retail chain store and shop for long-gone products, according to a Monday report from NPR station WYPR in Baltimore. By using real East German pennies to buy items such as Spee, a type of laundry detergent from the era, residents enjoy a soothing distraction.


“It’s really fascinating to see how people who basically laid in bed and lacked any motivation to do anything suddenly flourish,” nursing home director Gunter Wolfram told WYPR.

The collection of Communist-era memorabilia includes an old television-guide magazine, period-accurate furnishings, and even an anti-government protest mural. AlexA has seen its residents with dementia show improvements in communication and mood, even though Wolfram admits that the idea is a bit unusual: After all, many East Germans attempted to defect to the West during the country’s existence from 1949 to 1990.

“What has worked better here is this return to a culture as a whole,” Wolfram said, according to WYPR. “People feel safe again and end up remembering how they were a part of that scene.”


The facility is the only of its kind in Germany, according to its director, though WYPR pointed out that a new development in San Diego will include a “Main Street” typical of the 1950s and 1960s when it opens later this year.

Film buffs might also note a parallel with the 2003 movie “Good Bye Lenin!”, in which a young man attempts to shield his sick mother from the end of the Cold War by faking East German newscasts and supplying her with familiar products from the Communist period.

Written by Alex Spanko

Companies featured in this article: