Easy ways to make your business more dementia friendly

The Coronavirus pandemic has shown that many businesses and organisations can successfully adapt to different circumstances and put (sometimes expensive) measures in place to help people use their services safely. As we hopefully return to a more normal situation, we’d like to encourage those businesses and organisations to think how they can improve their physical and social environments to be more dementia friendly, rather than just removing Covid-related signs and returning to what they had before.

We’re not proposing everyone undergoes a complete refurbishment (unless you really want to!) or spends a lot of money, but just gives a bit more consideration to how they can support people affected by dementia, either as customers or members of staff. Whether you’re a café, restaurant, shop, pub, bank, leisure centre, office, train station or whatever, here are a few inexpensive ideas for you to take on board. You might also find that they benefit many more people, not just those affected by dementia!

Signs and finding your way around

Have you been working in a shop where people walk straight past the sign asking them to sanitise their hands? Maybe you’ve been getting frustrated at customers ignoring the one-way system you set up. Chances are, your signage wasn’t particularly obvious or was in the wrong place, especially if people have been more anxious about putting on a mask or avoiding other people. I know I’ve accidentally walked straight past sanitising stations and only spotted them as I’ve been leaving a building, and not seen arrows on the floor – in my defence they were fairly small, blended in very well with the flooring and were part way down an aisle rather than at the end. No contrast!

Signage in general can be an important factor in terms of helping people with dementia to find their way around, and there are some simple things you can do to make your signage more dementia friendly on a day-to-day basis.

  • Have clear, prominent signs to help people know where key facilities are, preferably with images, words and arrows as appropriate. For example, showing where the toilets are, where to queue, where to order, where the check-out is, where the exit is. Make these signs visible from different parts of your building or room, rather than after you’ve already gone round a couple of corners.
  • Also, think about the reverse journey. It’s all very well finding your way to the toilet in a café or restaurant, but if you don’t know how to get back out again, you could still encounter problems.
  • Have signs on doors, not next to or above them. If you’ve got ‘toilets’ written above a door, make sure there’s actually a sign on the door as well, as not everyone will look up. One example of poor sign placement I saw recently was having a set of double doors where only one was unlocked, but the ‘exit’ sign was stuck on the one that was locked! (And yes, I discovered that when trying to push the wrong door)
  • Accept that you might need more than one sign for the same thing. If you’ve got a space with multiple areas, corridors, more than one level etc., one sign probably isn’t going to do the job! Consider repeating them at each point where a person will need to make a decision or enters a new space.
  • Make sure signs are obvious, so at an appropriate height, not immediately inside a doorway where people are probably distracted or focusing further ahead, and in a colour that contrasts with the wall or door so that it stands out.
  • Try to see your space with a fresh set of eyes. You know where things are and probably think it’s really obvious, but imagine you were brand new to the space and walking in for the first time. Would you know what to do and where to go? You might find it useful to ask someone who doesn’t know your business to come in and act as a ‘critical friend’ for this bit as they will probably spot things that you’ve missed.
  • Think back to how things used to be. If you kept getting asked the same questions over and over again (e.g. where’s the toilet? Where can I pay? Is this the right place for this service?) it’s probably a good indication that your signs need to improve and will help many people.

Reducing clutter

Some places may have removed or repositioned furniture and other items to meet restrictions or make cleaning easier. While we’re not saying you should operate at a reduced capacity (e.g. fewer tables may not be profitable longer term), we’d encourage you to keep thinking about what you put where, as this could have an impact on people affected by dementia.

For example, having less ‘clutter’ and more space between furniture can help make it easier for people to navigate and move around a space, make it easier to see the new signs you’ve put up, improve lines of sight, and reduce trip hazards. Finding your way back to your table is likely to be easier if you can see where your family and friends are rather than having a plant or hat stand blocking your view!

Also, it’s been quite nice having a bit more space in some shops as it can make products easier to see, find and distinguish between. It’s just generally less visually confusing than when products are crammed together. Not only would this be a bonus for the shopper – regardless of whether they have dementia – but it might help to boost sales… (if I can’t find it, I can’t buy it).

Controlling noise

While some people may have missed the hustle and bustle of customers coming and going, one of the benefits of having fewer people in a shop is that it’s likely to be quieter indoors. Although you’re probably going to be doing everything you can to encourage more people to come back, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have some control over noise levels. Too much noise can sometimes be overstimulating and cause confusion for people with dementia, so don’t add to it by having loud background music or a television playing for no reason. If you’ve got an open kitchen or preparation area in a café, restaurant, pub etc., at least be aware of how much noise that is adding to the mix. You might not be able to reduce the noise very much, but is it possible to have a few ‘quiet’ tables further away from there? Similarly, is there a quiet area or room within a bank if people are having issues in the main open space?


Once ventilation is not as much of a concern, don’t immediately start shutting all doors and windows. Although there may be potential noise concerns, open doors and windows could also improve the amount of light you’re letting in as it probably means curtains, blinds or shutters are more likely to be pushed back.

Dark spaces or corners can be confusing or cause shadows that may be misinterpreted, so a strategically placed light could make a big difference. Conversely though, don’t make it too bright, especially if you have shiny surfaces that could cause reflections or look wet or slippery. If you’ve got blinds, be aware of any shadows these may cast, particularly on floors, which could look like steps or a change in surface. It might mean that you have to adjust any windows or blinds a few times throughout the day as the light changes, but 30 seconds of effort could really be worth it. Pay attention to how your indoor spaces look at different times in different conditions to see where the main problem areas may be, and try out some options. Each space will be different, so see what works for yours.

Another simple thing you could check is whether you have a black or dark floor mat or maybe one with stripes or an odd pattern just inside your entrance or by your exit. Black mats can sometimes look like a hole in the floor, while stripes and patterns can appear to move. These could potentially be a real barrier to a person with dementia entering your building in the first place, so they’d never even get to benefit from any of the other changes you’ve made.

Give people time

Yes, customer numbers may be increasing, but this doesn’t mean that everything has to be rushed. People with dementia may require a bit of extra time to process what is happening, especially if you have asked them a question. Don’t rush them or jump in with other questions, just give them a bit of time and space to respond to the first one! An extra few seconds really could make a bit difference. If other customers tut or seem annoyed, please support the person with dementia rather than feeling pressured to hurry them along.

Be friendly

During the pandemic, we’ve all had to get used to less social contact – well, in person anyway – and wearing masks that basically hide our expressions. As we return to ‘normal’, make the most of your new ability to interact with people and share it with them. We’re not saying you have to have a half hour chat with everyone and find out their life stories, but even just a smile (once we get to the point of not having to wear masks) can lift someone’s mood. It’s not just the person with dementia who may appreciate it, but carers too, as they will probably have been under an immense amount of pressure during lockdown as many other forms of support were unavailable.

Say hello to people, be ready to exchange a few words, just be a nice person.

There is a lot that can be done with little money or effort, and these are just a few examples. Most of it is about working with what you’ve already got or adjusting your way of working. However, if you’re considering refurbishing or redecorating your business, please find out more about dementia friendly design principles to see how colour, contrast, patterns, materials and ‘familiar’ design can all play an important role in improving the environment to support people affect by dementia.

As things pick up, the temptation may be to revert to what we had before, but why not make the most of the opportunity to make things just that little bit better for everyone?

Connect with ADS on twitter @DementiaStudies and on Facebook @adsuow

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