A few weeks ago my husband Jonathan and I were heading to a meeting and found we had half an hour to spare so stopped at a cafe for coffee and tea. It was a sunny day and there were several nice looking cafes with seating outside facing the sea. We thought it would be a good place to have a breather and collect our thoughts before the meeting. The setting was lovely, blue sky, sea, and the drinks were good. The issue I had was the pulsing loud music that they started to blast, as if we were a couple of teenagers on a Friday night, but this was 10am on a Tuesday. Maybe we look a little younger than we are?! There was just one other couple there, who also didn’t look like the type to want this music. The thing that really annoys me, and makes me quite mad is....
I didn’t even consider requesting they change or reduce the volume of the music. I just quietly accepted I would not be able to hold a thought in my head for the 20 minutes we had our drinks. What’s wrong with me??
Recently I was reading a blog by a man living with dementia and he was going though a list of issues he and others have when going out, and how society needs to become more dementia friendly. My thought was:
How do we make society more dementia friendly if society doesn’t know what needs to change?
My time at the cafe came to mind. Noises can be very distressing for a person with dementia, even everyday noises the rest of us manage to ignore. Someone with dementia may not have coped very well in the cafe we went to. But if I can’t speak up and say the music is annoying, how do I expect someone with dementia to? The person running this cafe wasn’t thinking about making their customers comfortable. Maybe this was just one ‘not so great’ staff member, but then again maybe it was up to me to tell them?
I have a friend whose mother has broken her hip. When we go out everyone is very quick to offer assistance. A good chair in a good position, away from draughts or near the heater. People want to be helpful and when they know how, are really pleased to do it. I think they would probably even offer to turn down annoying throbbing music for her too, without us asking, because when they see the walker their mindset is to find ways to make her more comfortable.
It feels to me that dementia is a pretty hard condition to cater to.
It is not so obvious to the everyday person what someone with dementia needs
It’s also not obvious if someone even has dementia. It is complicated. Every person with dementia is affected in different ways, not only can they have different types of dementia and combinations of dementia, but even with the same condition as someone else the way it plays out in their life will be completely unique.
Part of the problem I guess is people with dementia don’t want everyone to know about it - people aren’t going to wear dementia badges. There is still a stigma, and many people try to deny or hide it for as long as possible. But I’m sure my friend's mother doesn’t really want all the fuss either, she would probably prefer no one knew about her hip, it’s just a more obvious one to see.
It would be easier if there were always seats available out of the draught and in the quiet, but what can we do? How many dementia friendly cafes do we have in NZ?
Jonathan takes a van load of people from a dementia home out for a drive on a Sunday afternoon. They have a treat of an ice cream before returning home. Jonathan orders the ice creams at a drive through and as the takeaway place knows him, usually he can then park the van and the kind staff bring the ice creams out so he can hand them to each of his group. But sometimes, if there is someone new or just not aware, even if Jonathan asks for this help, he is handed the ice creams all at once through the window, for him to pass on through the van. You can imagine how difficult this situation can be. Some people don’t want to pass the ice cream on, some think they shouldn’t take the ice cream as they haven’t paid for it. Some end up holding an ice cream as it melts in their hands as they haven’t understood it’s theirs to enjoy. It can be a bit of a comedy skit. As most of the time the staff are ready to help it makes me think the ‘think of the customers' needs’ culture is there. But maybe a place like this needs a clearer rule. Carry out the ice creams if the van is full of seniors.
Some people just don’t have the ability to think through the problem from another person's point of view. Sometimes we need to let them know the music is too loud.
Have you ever been to a shop or a hairdressers and walked across one of those big black dirt-catching mats? The people in these places do not know that to someone with dementia this can look like a big hole. It’s not something you would just assume. I’m pretty sure if they knew, they wouldn’t have it there. If you were with someone who became distressed by a simple mat like this, you may decide not to go in, or you may eventually manage to convince the person the mat is not a hole and go inside - the question is with either outcome, would you tell the shop?
Are there places you would like to go to, but avoid taking your partner, parent or friend to because of the patterned carpet, mirrors or excessive busyness on the walls?
You don’t have to go there, but maybe you could let the owners know as well. So next time they makeover the shop they don’t include these things. Maybe the place is too dark? There is no seating? It’s noisy? The aisles are too narrow? The signage is confusing? There may be many other off putting scenarios. Society doesn’t always think of these things, we need to be educated.
Obviously there are some places that are going to be loud and busy, and are made that way for their patrons.
But there are lots of spaces that are shared. It may be appropriate for some to have the music full blast at 10pm and not at 10am. Malls for example may have times of day when they cater to families with children and other times think more about what other needs their shoppers may have, and some are starting to do this.
Those of us who know some of the issues, need to be sharing them. It probably won't change anything immediately, but if we don’t start requesting on behalf of those who need our support then it seems very unlikely society will pick them up on their own, and even as things change, we need to make them change faster.
One thing I have read about in regards to making an area dementia friendly is to smile at people with dementia.
I find this a little sad. Not just because people need to be told to smile at those with dementia, but because we need to be told to smile at anybody. We can’t tell who has dementia, or depression, or a stressful home or work-life, lost a loved one, is lonely, or anything else, so let’s just smile, and maybe we’ll get one back, but either way let’s hope we make the world a little friendlier for everyone.