No one would deny that a person living with dementia sees the world from a different perspective - how could we not?
Our dementia changes us. It alters our perspective. It provides us with challenges that those who do not have dementia are oblivious to.
I get lost easily when out and about. The guidance provided by signage is vital if I am to navigate my environment successfully. It’s no good expecting me to remember the route I took to get into your office. You need to provide me with the signs to show me the way out too!
Where are your toilets? Where is your reception? Where is the pay desk?
We are all comfortable with navigating our working environment, but often we forget that strangers may find it confusing. Indeed, if your working environment is a business, you may lose my custom if my experience of visiting you is unpleasant and confusing.
So how can you begin to see the world through the eyes of a person with dementia?
And what benefits can be gained from doing so?
Seeing the world through our eyes
There are two ways to put on your “dementia specs” and view the world through the eyes of someone like me.
Get a cardboard toilet roll inner and an empty cereal box, make yourself a pair of “dementia goggles and wear them around your workplace. This will NOT allow you to see the things that confuse or inconvenience us, but it WILL enable you to feel our embarrassment and self-consciousness as you walk about.
Do some research, or simply ask some people with lived experience to help you.
There is of course, a third option, and that’s to do nothing. Not to bother.
Go ahead with that one if you wish. No one’s forcing you. But don’t be surprised when our custom goes elsewhere or your place of work receives unfavourable comments or reviews.
As importantly, you’ll miss out on the universal benefits of a dementia-friendly environment.
The benefits of a dementia-friendly environment
ANY environment can be made more dementia friendly. An office, home, shop, concert hall, sports stadium, park, hospital… Anywhere there are people, there will be benefits that can be accrued.
Visitors will generally be less agitated, confused or distressed. Footfall will be smoother and more orderly, and more predictable. The environment will be safer and more welcoming, and secure. People will be happier and more content.
How to achieve a dementia-friendly environment
Whatever your customer-facing environment. Caring, retail, events, housing or public spaces, you will benefit from introducing a dementia-friendly mindset into it.
Whether you have an existing environment or you are embarking on the design and construction of a new one, you would be ill-advised to ignore any aspect of dementia-friendliness. It’s easier to design in than to retrofit, but most of us don’t have that luxury.
Most people don’t have the luxury of a clean slate to work with though, so it’s a case of adapting and evolving your current environment with dementia in mind.
A wealth of publications are available to help you to AUDIT your environment and make it more dementia-friendly; there are checklists and videos too.
Do some research. Download some of the wonderful resources that are out there (I’ll include a few links at the end of this article) and get cracking! It’s that simple.
Don’t expect perfection. Small changes sometimes make a big improvement. It would be unreasonable to expect massive spending on reflooring or a total redecorating, but maybe you could take some of the shine off those floors so that I don’t worry that I’m going to be walking through a puddle? Perhaps you could look at those dark areas in stairwells and provide better lighting, handrails and reflective strips?
It is well proven that an environment that is friendly, promotes independence and supports wellbeing, has familiar surroundings, allows easy access and wayfinding, supports meaningful tasks and supports participation in daily activities promotes safety, security and comfort.
In my humble opinion though, there is no better way to achieve your goal than by inviting some people who are living with dementia to catty out the audit with you.
We are the BEST consultants. We have no corporate axe to grind. No product to sell. We are glad to give our time to help you to help us.
Work with us to achieve your goals. The end result will be an environment that works better for EVERONE who enters it.
Here are some links to dementia auditing tools and checklists:
https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/sites/default/files/2019-01/Dementia%20Friendly%20Environment%20Checklist.pdf A useful broadbrush list of general things to consider.
https://www.worcester.ac.uk/about/academic-schools/school-of-allied-health-and-community/allied-health-research/association-for-dementia-studies/ads-consultancy/the-kings-fund-environmental-assessment-tools/home.aspx A comprehensive suite of environmental assessment tools from the University of Worcester that includes:
Care home assessment tool
Housing assessment tool
Health centre assessment tool
Hospital assessment tool
Ward assessment tool
Gardens assessment tool.
A comprehensive guide for retailers on how to make your business more dementia friendly.