Navigation (Way Finding)


Rachel stood on the cross street trying to find the street name–a diagnosis of dementia did not stop Rachel from continuing with her life. Rachel had to adapt but she was happy that she was not confined to her home. As her neighborhood kept changing, and the old shops were replaced by the new ones, Rachel did find it difficult to navigate. Now she was at a cross street trying to locate the street name.

Navigating neighborhood may pose some challenge for persons with dementia. Persons with dementia enjoy visiting their local neighborhoods for leisurely walks, running errands, or for shopping. Generally, caregivers and their carepartners will show a preference for known places that they have been visiting for several years (e.g., the local library). But as the population of an area grows, neighborhoods change. More shops are opened up, new roads or bicycle paths are constructed, landmark signs are moved. Some people with dementia find such geography changes challenging and struggle to cope.


At the individual’s level, some steps can be adopted to address this navigation problem. Caregivers can help their carepartners by providing them the recent maps of local neighborhoods. If a person living with dementia finds the maps too complex then a simple handmade illustration could serve the purpose. Some communities offer befriender services or have support group volunteers to help persons with dementia. A person with dementia could use these services for safely navigating the neighborhood. The navigation efforts at individual level also need to be supported by community efforts.  

An easily navigable neighborhood is helpful for building a dementia friendly community. Often it is possible to make navigation easy by adding some elements such as signage. Research suggests that a partnership between various agencies such as local (or federal) authorities, volunteer organizations, and caregivers is necessary to make neighborhood dementia-friendly. Additionally, other stakeholders such as local businesses and shops also need to participate in a collaborative spirit.   


The first step in making the way-finding process smoother for persons with dementia is to listen to their needs carefully. The volunteers or social workers may listen to the experiences of persons with dementia and make lists of modifications needed. Sometimes local authorities have a more hands-on approach and they “walk the patch” with persons with dementia to observe the challenges faced. Prior to the walk, a written consent is obtained from the person with dementia. Furthermore, a contingency plan for any safety issues that may arise needs to be in place. Often the caregivers will also participate in the walking process to ensure everything goes smoothly.


After the needs are identified, volunteer organizations and local government agencies contact the concerned business or local officials to make the facility dementia-friendly. For instance, if a street is missing a sign or the signs are placed too high to be read by a pedestrian then the volunteers reach out to the city’s planning department. If a business has no signs or has unclear signs then the volunteers contact business managers with suggestions to make the sign dementia-friendly. In summary, making neighborhood dementia-friendly is a shared responsibility.


Increased participation from residents speeds the process of making neighborhoods dementia-friendly. At Alzcare labs, we encourage keeping persons with dementia safe while they walk through their neighborhoods. For further information regarding our products such as PreSafe, send us an email at

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