May 13, 2024

Should There Be A Visual Identifier For People Living With Dementia Out In Public?

Should there be a visual identifier for people living with dementia out in public?
By implementing visible identifiers in public spaces, we can create a more inclusive society where people living with dementia are afforded the grace, understanding and patience they often need to feel included. [CoPiliot].

Three years ago, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and vascular dementia.

At the young age of 63, her journey with dementia began, subtly at first, but gradually becoming more pronounced with each passing day. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions for our family, filled with both moments of joy and challenges we never anticipated.

One of the biggest hurdles we face is navigating public spaces with Mum. Our family has always been supportive, accompanying her on outings to keep her engaged with the world outside her home.

But as her dementia progresses, so do the challenges. Her inability to comprehend social cues often leads to awkward interactions with strangers – moments that leave me scrambling to apologise and explain.

Imagine the embarrassment of having your mother pat a stranger on the head and refer to them as a “good dog.” It’s not malicious; it’s simply her inability to filter her thoughts and actions.

On a separate occasion at a street festival, she leapt in front of a man that was carrying a tray of food and challenged him to an imaginary sword fight. The startled man proceeded to drop all of the food he just paid for and was understandably upset.

Too upset to listen to my apologies or the reasoning behind what had happened. 

These incidents, though not physically threatening, have made me increasingly apprehensive about taking Mum out in public. I want her to experience the richness of life beyond the confines of her aged care home, but the fear of uncomfortable encounters looms large.

That’s where the idea of a visible identifier for people living with dementia comes in. Something as simple as a specific colour, item, or symbol could serve as a beacon of understanding for members of the public.

If people were aware of Mum’s condition before interacting with her, perhaps they’d approach with a bit more grace and patience, overlooking any odd behaviours.

It’s not a new concept. Various initiatives, including those proposed by Dementia Australia, have aimed to introduce such identifiers. The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower lanyard, for instance, offers a discreet way for individuals with hidden disabilities, including dementia, to signal their need for assistance and understanding in public spaces.

Speaking to HelloCare, Kaele Stokes, Executive Director of Services, Advocacy & Research, for Dementia Australia emphasised the importance of creating dementia-friendly communities.

“Any community can be a dementia-friendly community; one where people living with dementia and their carers are integral in creating spaces that understand, respect, support and empower them,” said Ms Stokes.

“In a dementia-friendly community, people committed to making change come together. They create a more inclusive, supportive and welcoming place where everyone can thrive.”

Despite the efforts of Dementia Australia, widespread recognition of dementia identifiers remains elusive.

Some people even argue against the idea, fearing it could lead to stigmatisation or labelling. However, for many family carers like myself, it would be a welcome relief – a lifeline that fosters social inclusion and fosters greater respect for those living with dementia.

In our quest for a dementia-friendly society, every step matters. Whether it’s through visible identifiers, education initiatives, or community engagement, we all have a role to play.

It’s about coming together to create spaces where individuals like my mother feel understood, respected, and empowered – where they can continue to be active participants in the world around them.

It’s time to dedicate the resources and advertising needed to create a nationally recognised dementia identifier.

By implementing visible identifiers in public spaces, we can create a more inclusive society where everyone, regardless of their cognitive abilities, can participate fully in community life.

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  1. Having visiblle identifiers to ‘label’ someone by their condition is a breach of human rights. Imagine if we labelled people with intellectual disability to make it easier for people in the public or their families… I’ve seen people using the Sunflower lanyard, and it has not helped them at places like airports

    And despite more than a decade of dementia friendlh initiatives, the stigma and discrimination remain the same. They are more of a fundraising initiative for the charities, and until peopl ewith dementia are employed in them, they are also exclusive.

    Imagine, for exmaple, if we had LGBTI friendly community initiatives, and onlhy heterosexuals were employed to work in them – and people ffrom the LGBTI community were expected to volunteer their time to be involved???

  2. I think this is a fantastic idea. As the daughter of a mother suffering from this disease and a support worker who takes clients out into the world a sunflower lanyard identifies these people so you are not constantly saying sorry. This would definitely help young children who in the past, have become scared by this old man yelling and laughing at them saying I love children. Apologising to the parents and children explaining he has dementia doesn’t lesson the original fright the children have. Seeing the lanyard prominently displayed pre warns people about potential behaviours.

  3. Being a carer for my husband I completely understand the position of the author. It has happened to me too a few times. I agree that a discreet identifier, a pin, or a brooch, probably would help. I have the Dementia Australia cards “My companion has a condition that affects….”, but sometimes I am not fast enough to hand them out. But it wuld require a intensive campaign to share it and the meaning.

  4. I’m sorry for the treatment of your mother in the public space. It’s an ordeal that you and your mum and many people in the same position deal with every day. Although it causes stigmatisation for people living with dementia, I believe it would be a step towards the community being able to understand that yes this lady has dementia and behave accordingly towards both her and her carer.
    I’d pick something like a white rose with a capital D on it. Just an idea for you. I agree that there needs to be some recognition. My grandmother had Diabetes and she wore a bracelet with Diabetic engraved on it. Maybe this could be another option. Best of luck 🙂
    Leesa, Bachelor of Dementia Care student, Launceston, Tasmania 😊

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