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Helping the UK visitor economy to become more dementia friendly

Helping the UK visitor economy to become more dementia friendly: new research findings

An estimated 46.8 million people are affected by dementia worldwide, a figure expected to double every 20 years reaching around 131.5 million by 2050. One approach to dementia care is to help people live well with dementia and a part of this is promoting leisure activity, such as spending time at visitor attractions. 

A new study has highlighted that dementia awareness could be improved within tourism and leisure businesses and that advice and practical support to help businesses adopt dementia-friendly approaches was needed. The researchers carried out a survey and in-depth interviews with Scottish tourism organisations and visitor attractions – museums, transport companies, historic houses and outdoor attractions – to better understand the scale and scope of the current awareness and service provision.

This is the first major study globally of this issue within the visitor economy and marks a turning point in recognising the great potential to accommodate the needs of an ageing population and the various needs of people with dementia and their carers. VisitEngland research has found nearly one in five tourism day trips in England are taken by people with an impairment and their travelling companions. Other research shows visits to favourite places and spaces can stimulate memory and emotional well-being, and being out of the home setting can help lessen the rapid mental deterioration associated with dementia.

One of the major findings of the study is that development of dementia-friendly initiatives were considered by site managers and business owners to be relevant to the industry. But a lack of awareness about how to make their site more dementia-friendly meant that initiatives to help make places more dementia-friendly were ‘not on the radar’ in some cases. Some 70 per cent of businesses responding to an online survey agreed that ‘I would like to make my business more dementia-friendly’ but few businesses were planning to make any adaptations.

The Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge launched in 2012, said UK businesses should become dementia-friendly by 2020. This study, by the University of Exeter Business School, Hertfordshire Business School and Plymouth Medical School, is part of a wider programme of research by the Prime Ministerial Working Group on Dementia, Air Transport and Tourism.

Dr Joanne Connell, from the University of Exeter Business School, who co-led the study said: “Low levels of dementia awareness are a major barrier to businesses taking measures to help customers with dementia enjoy their visit. While there are some examples of great practice, many site managers know very little about what actions they can take and do not know where to seek information. We hope this report will help flag up to leaders in the sector the need to co-ordinate practical support and advice for businesses. This needs to be easy to access, cost free and delivered in different formats to suit the needs of different businesses.”

Dementia-friendly businesses help customers find their way around easily and to travel around the area, help them feel safe when out and about, help them access everyday facilities and services such as banks, shops, cafés and cinemas. They also promote education and public awareness of dementia. These principles are enshrined in the concept of dementia-friendly communities, as advocated by Ian Sherriff, one of the report’s authors who spearheaded the development of Plymouth as Britain’s first dementia-friendly city.

The best ways for businesses to help people with dementia is to train staff, avoid patronising treatment of people with dementia and their carers, providing full place information so visitors can use their own judgement about what may or may not be suitable and providing excellent customer service, clear signage and well-designed spaces.

Professor Stephen Page of Hertfordshire Business School, said:“Part of living well is being able to take day trips, visits to attractions and holidays. Previous research studies we have conducted show these visits are very important to people with dementia and their carers to help them maintain a degree of normality in their everyday lives.  Being able to enjoy day trips and holidays means there is a ready-made market for businesses who cater for these needs. Leisure businesses and organisations have a role to play in helping people with dementia and their carers to continue to live meaningful lives if we are to be a socially inclusive society”.

“We have found company owners and managers need more information and knowledge, and need to make sure their staff are informed about the best way to help people. The businesses we spoke to saw catering for people with dementia as being about accessibility. What they should be doing is making this a normal part of their day to day practice.”

This study is the first stage of an ongoing project by the researchers that will lead to more practical guidance for businesses seeking to become dementia friendly in different areas of the visitor economy that will help the UK and other countries to help grapple with this major societal challenge around living well with dementia.

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To find out more about dementia research at Exeter, visit:

Date: 23 November 2017