Jane stood there with her cart and feeling lost. Those aisles seemed like a maze. It was her usual grocery store but today it seemed different. The cucumbers were on the left as usual but now she could not see tomatoes on the right. Jane was trying hard to remember where she usually found tomatoes.
Lisa noticed Jane waiting in the aisle for last five minutes. As a supervisor, Lisa interacted with customers needing help on a daily basis. Lisa gently asked, “Can I help you find something?” Jane was flustered, she mumbled “I come here every week but this seems different. I don’t remember well but I need things for sandwich” Lisa responded, “I work here. I sure can help you find what you are looking for.” Within seconds Lisa guided Jane to tomatoes.
Jane has a diagnosis of dementia. Most people living with dementia prefer to shop at a known place and yet often face challenges. Persons with dementia may experience naming difficulties for objects, e.g., not remembering the word ‘tomato’ or feel confused when the isles are without written signs. People with dementia may feel restless with loud music or feel agitated if the lights are too bright. People with dementia may also have difficulties in finding money or cards, packing their items in a bag and may take more time at the check-out counter. Many people with dementia avoid going to shops and business altogether. This results in additional chores for a caregiver or family member.
Thankfully, businesses such as grocery stores are engaging in the efforts to become dementia friendly. Lisa was able to help Jane because her employer had trained her. Many dementia friendly businesses design dementia awareness programs for their frontline staff and management personnel. The training program includes information about dementia and possible needs of persons with dementia while shopping. Furthermore, the employees are trained to assist persons with dementia with patience and kindness.
As we have seen, most stores have an “Express” lane for a quick check out. Dementia friendly stores have a “No hurry” check out lane. If customers require more assistance or time with their money and goods, then they can be checked out through “No hurry” lane. These lanes have pictures of coins and bills of various denominations. Additionally, the staff provides assistance with payment and bagging purchases.
A dementia-friendly store keeps its layout more or less constant. When items or shelves are moved, a clear signage is provided. Some businesses and stores provide quiet hours (no music) for persons with dementia. Often persons living with dementia respond to mirrors, patterned walls or floors, lighting in unusual ways. So dementia friendly stores minimize the use of these items and if used, provide staff with assistance. If the shop has steps, then handrails are provided and steps are clearly marked. This minimizes the risk of fall in persons with dementia.
Keeping persons with dementia safe is a community responsibility. AlzCare Labs focuses on employing science and technology to keep people with dementia safe as they shop or visit local businesses. We are building platforms and products such as PreSafe that help people with dementia to be engaged in their communities.
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How to help people with dementia: A guide for customer facing staff.