Many societies around the world are making great strides towards becoming dementia-friendly communities. Whether that’s through building dementia-villages, introducing new training and education programs or funding social healthcare; there is a growing understanding of the need to make both public and private spaces dementia-friendly.
In this regard, businesses (stores, restaurants, call centers, etc) can also contribute to the meeting the general target of becoming more inclusive. To be dementia-friendly is to understand, respect, and support the needs of people living with dementia. According to Alzheimer’s society, “statistics show that only 47% of people living with dementia feel like they’re a part of their community, and 28% even give-up getting out of the house.” As a business, fostering a dementia-friendly environment may even be economically beneficial. One study in the UK showed that up to 83% of people living with dementia changed their shopping habits to buy from somewhere that was more ‘accessible’ to them.
A dementia-friendly business has three core elements: People, Process, and Place. Each of these elements has to be examined and re-structured carefully in order to create a more inclusive space. Below are some recommendations based on information provided by the Alzheimer’s Society UK.
The most important part of any business is its people. Training your staff to be empathetic toward a person living with dementia and understanding their needs can go a long way in ensuring a better experience for everyone. Some general practices recommended for customer interactions with a person living with dementia are:
- Act in a kind, and respectful manner. Be considerate but not condescending. The person does not need to be pitied. He or she only needs to be understood in a calm and comforting manner.
- Be mindful of your body language. Crossed arms and arched eyebrows can convey frustration and anger. A smile and calm tone of voice is essential in ensuring a pleasant experience.
- Use badges or uniforms to indicate who is part of the staff. Nobody should be put in a position where they are unsure of who to approach. At the same time, don’t overwhelm (the person) with too many questions or constant hovering.
Various organizations offer comprehensive training and education programs which can be used to ensure that your staff is equipped with the knowledge and skill needed to enable positive consumer-experiences for people living with dementia.
The next step after training your staff is to think about the shopping experience by placing yourself in the shoes of the consumer. Some questions to ask in order to evaluate the suitability of your business for people living with dementia are:
- Do customers have an opportunity to inform you about their dementia or know that they should?
- Is written information on products, menus or instructions in a large enough font?
- Are assistance aids like magnifying glasses available?
- Do you offer a more personalized service to provide additional support for people with dementia to enable them to continue using your business more easily and for longer?
- Could home visits or outreach to care homes/sheltered housing be offered?
There are many more aspects to ensuring your a smoother shopping process for everyone. Similar to staff training programs, it is possible to seek professional advice for planning your business to be dementia-friendly.
The final step is to make sure that your business can physically accommodate the needs of people living with dementia. Dementia diseases can affect people’s vision, hearing, the ability to process information and their reaction to sensory stimulators. People living with dementia may face increased difficulty with everyday tasks such as climbing stairs, navigating aisles and shelves, and avoiding obstacles such as water on the floor. Some things to consider while designing the physical space are:
- Is the space well signposted and relatively easy to navigate without too many twists and turns?
- Is the store wheelchair friendly?
Sound and Lighting:
- How is sound is absorbed, transmitted, and insulated? Carpets, cushions, curtains, and furniture can improve the acoustics of the room by absorbing noise
- Is it easy to distinguish items from each other, the shelves from the walls and the floor from the staircases?
- Are entrances well-lit and make as much use of natural light as possible?
- Is there ample parking space close to the store so that caregivers don’t have to leave a care-receivers unaccompanied?
- Is it easy to find a toilet that is clean, fall-safe, and well-lit?
Consider a self-guided or professional audit to understand the challenges affecting people living with dementia and how you can design the physical space to address them.
The abundance of knowledge and resources available today can help any business become a dementia-friendly one. By working towards greater inclusivity we can ensure that every member of the society feels respected and valued.