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How can retailers become truly dementia-friendly?

Written by Kathy Lawrence

Simple changes can make navigating and enjoying the shopping and eating out experience much easier for those with dementia.

Shops, restaurants and community spaces regularly do an excellent job in signposting the way to the toilets in their buildings. But how about signposting the way out as well? Dementia expert Prof Andrea Tales of Swansea University recently used this as an example of how retailers can easily help those who are easily lost, and it’s a cause that’s been taken up by the local Alzheimer’s Society group to encourage more retailers, hotels, restaurants and community areas to think about simple ways to improve life.

There’s opportunity everywhere. Let’s stay with the visit to the loos. Sometimes they can be a triumph of style but usability is lost in the process. How about a little more consistency in the way that doors lock, taps operate and hands can be dried? I know I stand perplexed at times wondering what to do next. Turn the tap, wave my hands, stamp on a button on the floor?

Understanding dementia is a great first step

In general there’s been a huge amount of progress in service industries towards spreading understanding of what dementia is and breaking down the stigma associated with the disease. That’s a great first step in making the high street more accessible for those with dementia.

In York the Dementia Action Alliance is committed to making the whole city dementia-friendly. The initiative builds on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Dementia Without Walls project to make York a good place for people with dementia to live and visit. Launched in 2013, the Alliance now has 45 formal members, including BHS, Sainsbury’s and York City FC. Businesses that want to claim membership have to submit their action plan for supporting the initiative. Policy and Research Manager for the Alliance, Philly Hare, explains the thinking behind the project: “Dementia-friendly communities should be accessible, inclusive, welcoming and supportive to those affected by dementia, enabling them to contribute to, and participate in, mainstream society.”

What practical steps can retailers take?

For those living with dementia the world is an increasingly confusing place. Learning new ways to shop and use facilities of any sort while out and about becomes a serious challenge. Even the familiar can become difficult.

Professor Graham Stokes, the Global Director of Dementia Care at Bupa, has been working in the dementia arena for 20 years. He believes we’re ready to move to the next level: “We’re at a time when we’ve got the language, we’ve got the awareness, we’ve got the motivation, we’ve got the ideas. And now what we need is the action.”

Professor Stokes points out that every major company in the UK has signed up to be dementia friends, but he asks, what does that actually mean? “What is tangibly different going into a dementia-friendly supermarket to one that hasn’t signed up to that? Is a dementia-friendly supermarket going to stop moving around its products within the supermarket in order to get impulse buying? Because we know that people with dementia need predictability. They do not like change.”

It’s a difficult challenge. For retailers the bottom line is to make more sales in a highly competitive marketplace, although many do recognise that good service is an important differentiator. On the other hand, are they likely to stop rearranging their stores to promote different products because it’s confusing for a small section of their customers? Not very likely. But there are other things they can do such as clearer signposting, keeping processes simple and consistent, and looking for ways to reduce disturbing noise levels.

It’s a consideration that affects many service suppliers. Cafes and restaurants, garden centres, hotels, leisure centres and more are targeting the senior sector of the community, but perhaps need to think beyond putting all the onus on staff to be aware and helpful.

What do retailers themselves say?

We asked a number of major retailers, garden centre chains and utilities about their approach to dementia-friendly retailing. These are the replies we received.

Tesco says: “We want to make sure everyone who visits our stores feels comfortable and supported by our colleagues. This includes those with dementia. We have also supported awareness-raising campaigns both internally at Tesco and in the wider community. Specifically, regarding helping customers with dementia we have:

  • Raised awareness amongst colleagues in the pharmacy
  • Provided training on dementia via Tesco Academy
  • Displayed information about dementia in and around our pharmacies during Dementia Week (17-23 May 2015)
  • Encouraged our pharmacy staff to become an Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Friend”

Waitrose says: “Providing our customers with the best possible service is a priority for us and therefore all of our branches provide an assisted shopping service for customers who need help with their shop. Our Partners can help collect and pack shopping then accompany the customer to a car if required. We are also raising awareness amongst our Partners of disability, through our Disability Awareness Champions in our shops, many of which have recently undertaken dementia training.

“It is also now possible for online customers to add the name and mobile phone number of a friend or family member we can contact if our drivers are unable to make their delivery. This offers added peace of mind to relatives or carers of customers who live alone, who are getting older and/or are disabled.

“Since the single use carrier bag charging legislation came into effect in England on October 5 2015, every penny raised from the sale of carrier bags in our branches will go towards a new dementia care of excellence. This is being created at University College London, for the care, treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s. This centre has the potential to make a difference to thousands of people affected by this disease, which we know has impacted on the lives of many of our Partners and customers.”

LloydsPharmacy says: “Pharmacy is ideally positioned to support those people who are living with dementia; patients, their families and their carers.

“It is estimated that 1.2 million people visit one of the 11,600 pharmacies in England each day, and a survey undertaken by Carers UK in 2015 found that carers rated pharmacy as the most carer-friendly service they receive out of all community services. Pharmacists and their teams are familiar with the signs of dementia and can identify patients and customers who may need more support when in their pharmacy. By encouraging pharmacy colleagues to become Dementia Friends, we can provide them with a platform to share their existing skills with their community, helping to create and play a proactive role in dementia friendly communities.

“The Dementia Friends movement is now more important than ever, and through continued support we hope more businesses and communities will see the significance of increasing their own knowledge of the condition. We will continue to evolve our pharmacy services to meet the challenges of our patients and their carers with an aspiration that all of our LloydsPharmacy stores across the UK become dementia friendly, as we believe pharmacy can play a huge role in supporting everyone affected by dementia”.

What do you think?

What small (or large) changes would you like to see in the High Street to make life easier for those with dementia? That includes shops, banks, restaurants and cafes, hotels, leisure centres, garden centres – anywhere that is part of everyday life. Do comment below this article.

If you found this article interesting you may like to view the full presentation by Professor Stokes and Professor June Andrews on Building a Dementia-Friendly Society.

This article was written in January 2016.

Read advice from people who have experienced caring for those living with dementia in articles on When They Get Older:

And you can download our free guide on supporting those living with dementia.

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