You might first be asking yourself what makes a venue or environment dementia friendly? What does the term ‘dementia friendly’ even mean? Well, people living with dementia often encounter many challenges when trying to engage with their communities and local venues. Venues that appreciate and acknowledge the experiences of people with dementia, and who use this understanding to implement positive change, are wonderful examples of Dementia Friendly venues.
As many as 69% of people with dementia have reported that lack of confidence is the major reason as to why they stop going out. Several factors feed into these uncertainties, including fears of judgement or anxieties concerning new spaces. This blog will address many such factors, which will inform you about what changes you can make so that people affected by dementia can still remain active in their communities.
In light of Sadiq Khan’s recent pledge to make all cultural venues in London dementia friendly, we’ve put together a list of ways that you too can update your venue to ensure it’s accessible for people living with dementia, as well as for their carers.
(1) Clear and accurate signage
Have you ever been in a venue desperate to find the toilets, only to despair at a lack of direction? You’re too anxious to ask for help and begin to feel terribly embarrassed about the whole thing. If you haven’t experienced this first-hand, I can assure you that it is a terribly stressful feeling and is not something that I’d like to repeat.
These feelings of unease and confusion can be especially pronounced in people with dementia as all too often venues do not account for their specific needs. This lack of accessibility can act as a deterrent for public outings or make for unpleasant days out.
Dementia friendly signage addresses these needs by helping to assist wayfinding and signposting areas in an easily digestible format. These considerations not only help improve the confidence, independence and understanding of visitors with dementia, but are also useful to a wide range of visitors.
“So what factors do make signage accessible to people with dementia?”
Some people with dementia have increased issues with processing visual information and may find it difficult to understand complex signs. Ensuring that your signs clearly convey their message allows guests to confidently find their way around your venue and understand where they can find key facilities or points of interest.
Using a bold, plain typeface, such as Arial, is a sure-fire way to avoid any reading errors or confusion. Be sure to write in sentence case, with the first letter of the sentence and any following proper nouns being capitalised. Sentence case is considered far more readable than other forms of text, such as using all caps or only lower case.
“Is that all there is to it?”
No! To really pack a punch, you should also consider following specific colour themes. This will ensure good contrast between the text and the background for maximum legibility. Below you can see clearly contrasting colour combinations ranked from most to least visible.
You should also consider whether the colours you have chosen are also easily distinguishable from the venue environment. This prevents signs from being camouflaged and gives the best possible opportunity for stress-free navigation. It’s no good having a black and yellow sign set on a wall featuring bumblebees now is it!
To maximise understanding, it really is quite straightforward – keep things simple! Use as few, uncomplicated words as possible to convey your message. Combining easily recognisable and simple symbols with your sign text is an excellent way to make your signage more accessible.
Research has found that people with dementia, as well as their carers and healthcare providers, universally believe in the importance of including both textual and visual information on signs in public spaces.
“What kind of images do you mean?”
Research has stressed the significance of using concrete imagery that is universally understandable. For example, if there is a toilet to the left, your signage could include a clear symbol of a toilet, an arrow pointing left and the word ‘Toilet’.
But again, be sure not to overcomplicate things! Too much information or overly abstract images can be disorienting for visitors.
Photo Credits: Alzheimer’s Society
Here you can see examples of accessible dementia friendly signs, provided by the Alzheimer’s Society. Do be sure to visit their website by clicking the link above. Here you can find some further inspiration when designing your own signs for a variety of situations.
Once you have drawn up a maximally colour-contrasted sign, with all sorts of wonderfully concise information, you’ll need to actually put up it up. But where?
Signs should be positioned in a spot where they are easy to see and are easily identifiable. As most people diagnosed with dementia are over the age of 65, and older people tend to have a more downward gaze, signs should be centred around 1.4 metres from the floor. This means that signs are still in the direct line of eyesight for visitors with dementia, but are also easily accessible to other visitors.
Signs should also be located in important decision making points for wayfinding, such as exits and entry points. They should be positioned away from other signs or information so that they are easy to identify and use. Imagine one sign pointing you to the café, surrounded by several other signs, each with their own arrows and markers. It makes things rather confusing doesn’t it!
Good lighting can make a world of difference to visitors. It can help make up for poor eyesight and visual perception problems, which is common in people with dementia. However, insufficient lighting can be a source of anxiety. This is because it makes it harder for guests with dementia to make sense of their new environment.
Effective lighting means that visitors can easily identify signs, have maximum visibility, understand their surroundings and confidently navigate around venues. So how do you go about lighting your dementia-friendly venue? Well, here’s a few things to consider:
Increased light levels are a must! Lighting should be even and consistent throughout your venue, and sufficiently bright for older people. As eyesight deteriorates over age, more and more light is required for older people to adequately see their environment. In fact, it is estimated that older people need as much as 2 to 4 times more light than young people!
Insufficient light levels can impede venue navigation and even be anxiety provoking. The need for bright light is especially pronounced in bathrooms and stairwells, as these are spots where accidents are most likely to occur. Your now accessibly designed signs should also be well lit, as well as points of interest, entrances and exits.
So, when studying your space, you should carefully consider your lighting in ways which reduce (or ideally eliminate) glare, shadows and reflections. They can be easily misinterpreted because of perceptual-processing errors, resulting in fear, confusion or disorientation.
Consider maximising your use of natural light. Daylight is more diffused than artificial light and can cover a larger area – all while being free! It is recommended that you include two sources of natural light, ideally from different directions, for maximum effectiveness.
“How do I go about including more natural light in my venue?”
Small steps, such as opening blinds and curtains, taking down unnecessary nets and maintaining clean windows, can all do wonders. To really make the most of natural light, assess your venue and areas that you can improve. Here you can see some examples of factors that you may not have already considered:
- Cut back outside trees and hedges if they block out sunlight
- Install skylights, clerestories or light shelves
- Use tall, repeated windows throughout your venue
“But what about during winter times or evenings? Surely it would then be too dark for guests?”
Of course, natural light will not always be bright enough, so you should balance lighting between natural and artificial sources. It is better to include a range of artificial light fittings, as opposed to just a few here and there. This helps to diffuse light and maintains a sufficient level of brightness at all times.
However: maximum light intensity ≠ effective lighting! Excessively bright light can be overwhelming by casting deep shadows, which can be misinterpreted as holes or figures. So keep experimenting and ideally bring in some older people to hear their input and take it on board.
(3) Look to the floor!
Though thinking about flooring isn’t generally at the top of anyone’s mind, it is important to consider when designing dementia friendly spaces. Accessible flooring can encourage feelings of ease and comfort for visitors and enable them to confidently navigate venue spaces.
As mentioned already, dementia can change how we see and engage with our environment – and flooring is no exception. Inaccessible flooring can be a cause for heightened anxiety and confusion for visitors. It can even lead to confidence-shattering accidents such as trips and falls.
Let’s have a look at some flooring factors that should be taken into account when designing dementia friendly venues:
Strong patterns and dark flooring are best avoided when designing a dementia-friendly venue. They can confuse and even over-stimulate visitors, due to an increase in visual stimulus. What’s more, they can disorientate visitors and hinder navigation.
“Why is that?”
Stripes could be perceived as barriers, busy patterns could become a nest of writhing snakes, or dark spots could be interpreted as holes in the ground. Even a seemingly simple floor with contrasting speckles can be misinterpreted as something like litter. This could lead to visitors with dementia continually attempting to clean up a perfectly clear floor space.
In a similar vein, avoid highly reflective, glossy or sparkly floors. Shiny floors can appear wet or unsafe to someone with dementia, as they could be perceived as pools of water. So, it is recommended that you stick to plain, matt floor finishes to allow visitors to walk without hesitation. Furthermore, matt flooring reduces glare, which people with dementia are increasingly sensitive to the disorienting effects of.
“So, what design should I go for?”
Opt for plain flooring or flooring with subtle patterns. This could include laminate wood flooring with a subtle grain, even carpets or standard tiles. The type of flooring that you choose is not so important, but what is important is keeping things consistent and continuous. Keep this point in mind, as it will be expanded on a bit later.
Some visual examples of appropriate and inappropriate flooring choices.
“Right, but what about the importance of colour?”
Dementia, coupled with eyesight deterioration over age, makes it really quite difficult for some people to make sense of their environments. However, introducing some colour contrast into your space can really help with this.
With this in mind, you could design your flooring in a different colour to the surrounding area. Entire sections of flooring could contrast with the wall colour, or cleverly contrasting skirting boards (from both the walls and floor) could be used around the edge of the room.
By introducing contrast, someone with dementia can better pick out the room layout as further clues as to space perspective are given. Though be sure to use highly contrasting colours as there is a higher threshold for colour contrast perception amongst older people.
“So, use as much contrast wherever possible, right?”
No! You must be careful when incorporating contrast into your space. Sudden points of contrast could be interpreted as steps or holes, when in actuality the floor is perfectly even. This might induce feelings of hesitation and uncertainty for visitors, which could lead to something more serious like a fall.
If you do wish to make flooring changes throughout your venue, we recommend making such changes gradually, so as to not confuse guests. Though it is ideal that you stick to a single colour and finish throughout. This is because bold changes in colour could give the impression that there are changes in depth from room to room, or that certain rooms may be off-limits due to perceived barriers.
(4) When things get a bit overwhelming …
Though you may have tried your best to reduce excessive noise levels, you cannot control how all of your guests may behave. Crowds of chattering visitors, busy dinging cash registers or even seemingly innocent background music could trigger feelings of anxiety and overstimulation for anyone when smashed altogether in one visit.
People with dementia or sensory impairments are especially hard hit in such scenarios. This is why we recommend the inclusion of quiet spaces and quiet hours.
Quiet spaces and hours
Quiet spaces are designated safe spaces with reduced levels of sensory stimulus. This is spot where someone can retreat to from a particular situation if they are feeling confused or uneasy. They have the chance to take time out for themselves to calm down and recuperate, without feeling as if they have to leave a venue entirely.
“What exactly does this look like?”
Such a space should materialise as a well-advertised, clearly signposted, entirely separate room or cordoned off space. It should be stationed away from noisy areas and other people, with adjustable lighting, no music and comfortable seating.
“Okay, that seems simple enough. But I feel like I could do a bit more.”
What wonderful enthusiasm! You could consider also introducing quiet visiting hours, in which lights are dimmed, potentially triggering sounds are reduced (such as cash machines), and music is turned off, during specific advertised timeframes. This has worked well in venues such as Morrisons, The Entertainer and HSBC to cater to the needs of visitors with hidden disabilities, such as autism, ADHD and dementia.
However, some visitors with dementia may not need to fully remove themselves from certain situations. Rather, they may just need a brief moment of respite. This is where comfortable seating arrangements come in.
Incorporating frequent seating areas into your venue layout allows for a variety of visitors to gather themselves momentarily. Visitors may become winded after having explored the space for some time, or would just like a quiet moment to themselves to simply observe a venues goings-ons.
No matter the reason, accessible seating can be appreciated by all guests! After all, have you ever been itching for a spot to sit down to ease your aching feet after spending hours trawling through a museum or exhibition, only to despair when you could find none? I certainly have!
More frequent, clear seating would have really helped me during these times and provided some relief so that I could go out and fully enjoy my experience for the rest of my day out.
“Right, so I just need to throw in some extra chairs?”
I appreciate the keenness to get into things, but some proper planning and consideration is best to help your customers get the most out of their visit. Haphazardly plonking down chairs may well help some people, but someone with dementia or visual impairments is unlikely to also reap the benefits.
“Okay, how should I go about including accessible seating?”
Ensure that there is seating available frequently throughout your venue. Seating should be especially concentrated in areas that visitors may have to wait or stay at for extended periods of time, such as nearby toilets or reception areas.
This seating should be unmistakably clear, so avoid abstract or overly modern seating furnishings. Instead, opt for traditional, plain styles of seating. Ideally, seating would be high-backed to give some extra support, with supportive armrests.
Apply your newfound knowledge of all things colour and install seating that contrasts against the floor and the surrounding environment. Making seating abundantly clear eases the anxiety of guests who may already be in a heightened state of unease when searching for a spot to collect themselves.
For example, if your seat cushions were a similar grey to the flooring, someone with perceptual-impairments may not be able to distinguish the seat from the floor. They may spend some time nervously trying to figure this out, becoming increasingly flustered and embarrassed. This may all then devolve into an accident or an outburst, brought about their increased state of agitation. By considering a simple change of colour, all this could be easily avoided.
(5) Become a Dementia Friend!
If you have considered and implemented the factors above, then you are admirably on your way to becoming a wonderfully accessible venue. However, all of the best signs and colour schemes in the world won’t be able to help you much if you don’t have a welcoming, educated team to back it up.
Unfortunately, all too often people are not properly educated about what dementia is and what it can look like. Rarely do people even know how to best support people with dementia. This means that people with dementia often feel excluded from their communities and misunderstood by the people around them. This makes it even more difficult for them be involved with what’s going on around them. This is an absolute travesty!
By working to become a Dementia Friendly organisation with the Alzheimer’s Society, staff can participate in training sessions. Here staff, particularly customer-facing staff, can develop a greater understanding of dementia and how it can affect people with a diagnosis. They can then put this information into practise by interacting with guests respectfully, clearly, and confidently to ensure that they feel welcome as soon as they step foot into your venue.
“Hmm, I’m not sure we have the budget for all this training. Can we still become a Dementia Friendly venue?”
Of course you can! What’s wonderful about the Dementia Friend program is that all training is provided for free of charge. What’s more, training is rather flexible, so all staff can make use of it. With different teaching methods and durations, there’s little excuse for you to pass up on this wonderful opportunity.
“Right, I’m in! But how do I actually go about becoming a Dementia Friend?”
You should register your organisation on the Dementia Friends website here. The majority of learning will take place on this page, so be sure to keep note of it!
The Alzheimer’s Society stresses the importance of actively engaging with what you will learn throughout training. It is not enough to just say that you are a Dementia Friend, you must put what you learn into action. Therefore it is important for you to seriously consider some of the points we have raised above. Such training should be an essential aspect of all staff inductions and refreshers.
“Is that it?”
It is superb that you are taking the steps to become a Dementia Friendly venue, but it is of little use if you don’t advertise it! I won’t delve too deeply into the nitty gritty of the benefits of accessibility advertising here, but you can check out one of our previous blog posts here to find out more.
Staff will receive Dementia Friend badges once they have successfully completed training – and once again this is free of charge! Generally, the badge includes a blue forget-me-not flower. Though, you can find a variety of pin types to suit your businesses’ theme.
Staff should wear these badges at all times as a part of their uniform. These badges show customers that they are understanding of dementia and that they are well-equipped to attend to the needs of those affected by it. This means that people who might need a bit of extra help don’t have to suffer through any additional anxiety when trying to enjoy themselves on a day out.
Visual examples of Dementia Friend badges.
Photo Credits: Alzheimer’s Society
We understand that this a lot of information for you to digest in one sitting! At first glance it might seem an overwhelming feat to make your venue dementia friendly. However, many of the changes discussed are relatively easy to make and go a really long way in helping people with dementia stay involved with their communities.
Consider becoming dementia friendly a gradual process, during which you will take an additional moment to be that bit more considerate when making decisions in your organisation. You can’t do everything all at once, but taking the first small steps will massively help an often forgotten population.
Hopefully this article has inspired you to freshly consider how your venue can be more welcoming for people with dementia. If you fancy even more information, do be sure to check out some of the detailed organisational guides offered by Alzheimer’s UK.
You can also check out some of our other accessibility-oriented blog posts to learn how to be more considerate to autistic customers. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you would like any accessibility advice specific to your venue.
Let us know below if you found this post helpful and any changes your venue will be introducing.