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Our April Meeting Centres webinar focused on the physical environment and how Meeting Centres can be made more dementia friendly. It was a real team effort, consisting of four short presentations. The session started with Professor Dawn Brooker MBE acting as chair and setting the scene about why the venue for a Meeting Centre is important and what you should look for when exploring potential options.

The first main presenter was Teresa Atkinson, who is module lead for our online PGCert module on ‘Enabling Environments for people with dementia’. She spoke about why we need to adapt environments for people living with dementia, but first took us back to basics by considering the impact of dementia on the brain and how it affects our ability to do everyday activities. She then encouraged us to consider what we can do to improve environments for people with dementia and calm things down.

Some of her key tips included:

  • Give me a clue. Help people to know what the purpose of a room is and where they are by providing visual cues and information, such as a table and chairs for a dining room and clear information about day, date and time.
  • Help me find my way around. Clear signage with images, text and directional arrows can be helpful, as can suitable lighting that enables people to see where they are going rather than asking them to walk down a dark corridor before sensor lighting kicks in.
  • Flooring is important. Avoid patterns or stripes as they can appear to move or be visually confusing for some people, while shiny floors may look wet or slippery and discourage people from walking on them.
  • Don’t confuse me. Avoid shiny surfaces, reflections and mirrors as people may not recognise themselves, especially if they think they are younger than they actually are. Seeing an older person than they are expecting could cause distress or confusion.
  • Where am I? Murals and decorations can make rooms look like a different space. For example, a mural of an underwater scene could be very confusing and make it unclear what room someone is in.
  • Support my mobility. Help people maintain independence by making it easier for them to move around. Avoid black mats by doorways as they can look like holes in the floor, and make sure any handrails or similar have sufficient contrast to the wall to enable people to see – and use – them.
  • Help me stay connected. Create spaces and an atmosphere where people feel comfortable and where they can socialise. A smaller scale can help with this as it feels more homely. It’s also important to consider outside spaces as they can be just as important in terms of social activity.

Next up was Sarah Waller CBE, who focused on the use of assessment tools and how they could be applicable to Meeting Centres. Originally developed as part of a Department of Health funded programme by The King’s Fund, a series of tools is available to help people assess different environments. They are not audit tools where an environment will pass or fail, but rather a self-assessment process to support people to make environmental improvements over time and help them to prioritise areas for improvement. Some of the ways people have used the tools to make changes in their settings are shown below.

In addition to the tools for organisations, Sarah also discussed a booklet she helped to produce for people to use in their own homes, called Making your home dementia friendly. More recently, the Association for Dementia Studies has worked with local organisations to develop a Dementia Friendly Village Halls guide and checklist. It is important to consider village halls as they often cater for multiple different types of group on different days, including some Meeting Centres, so it can be more difficult to make appropriate changes to the venue. However, there are still plenty of things you can do, but you have to realise that you often have to work with what you’ve got and make the best of with temporary changes for your own group sessions.

Julie Twaddell shared her experiences of working as part of Dementia Friendly Prestwick which began around five years ago. It originally started with a community cinema and developed dementia friendly health walks along Prestwick seafront (which looks amazing!).

They consulted with people to find out what improvements could be made to make the walks more accessible, not just for people with dementia but for everyone. One example Julie shared was working together to get a crossing put in place to help people cross a busy road running alongside the seafront, making it safer to access public toilets and a café. Based on their experience, Julie highlighted how important it is to get different organisations involved and explain the reasons behind any proposed changes at all stages, as this helps to get engagement and buy in. Sharing good news and taking people with you along the journey can also really help.

Julie also shared that they are in the process of establishing a Meeting Centre in an old cinema, where the building will also be shared with the wider community. They are facing a few challenges around the scale of the building and the style of the existing art deco fittings as they don’t necessarily fit with the guidance provided earlier by Teresa, but they are hoping to make it a suitable environment for everyone. We can’t wait to see the end result!

Caroline Hutton from Retain Wellbeing CIC was the last speaker of the session and talked about their experiences of working in different venues. She highlighted that it’s important to recognise that there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing a building or how to go about it, as what works in one case may not work in another.

A consultation with their potential and existing clients found out what they liked and disliked about different venues, and what was important to them. Transport, parking and access were commonly referred to, but a less obvious issue was the history of the building and what people might associate it with. This can sometimes be a distraction from what you are trying to achieve, or attract the wrong kind of attention from others.

While recognising the difficulties of making changes in a rented space, Caroline suggested that there are many options available to you if you are willing to be creative and engage with the landlord. It’s always worth asking what they are willing to provide or let you do, such as having a lockable cupboard to keep items in rather than having to keep bringing them each time. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know! She finished by saying that insurance is also an important consideration, as it can determine what you can and can’t do in the venue. For example, some might have a ‘no animals’ policy which could limit some activities.

Following the four great presentations, there was time for questions which enabled a few connections between attendees to be forged and further advice to be shared.

The following is a list of useful links to resources mentioned during the session and discussion:

A recording of the webinar is also available if you would like to listen to it – https://youtu.be/Tbvp_ikauSk

The next webinar will take place on Friday 28th May and will be looking at the tricky issue of money and funding. A brief overview of the topic is shown below, but please see our website for full details and how to register.

Thanks to everyone for their input, it was a great session with loads of useful information to take away. Contact details for the relevant parties are:

Author: Association for Dementia Studies

We are a multi-professional group of educationalists, researchers and practitioners who are expert in the field of person-centred dementia care and support. Our aim is to make a substantial contribution to building evidence-based practical ways of working with people living with dementia and their families that enables them to live well. We do this primarily through research, education and consultancy.

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