There are several unique challenges for those living with dementia when it comes to finding their way around. Someone with dementia may be disorientated and bewildered and this can cause them to become distressed and frightened. It’s not uncommon for them to forget their way around, even in places that they have been to many times before and those with memory loss often look slightly down, rather than up or straight forward which could mean that if you place any signage too high up they might not see it. It is also important to bear in mind that someone with dementia could find colour and depth perception impaired, so you need to ensure that any signs you provide to assist with navigation stand out with strong colours and are contrasting.
Added to this some medical conditions linked to some forms of dementia (particularly frontotemporal dementia (sometimes known as Pick's disease) have direct impacts on way finding abilities. Conditions such as primary progressive aphasia (PPA) can develop. This results in losing the ability to read, write and even understand language. If you only provide signage that is using words this to these people will be completely ineffective.
We still want the person living with dementia to be able to navigate around the church with confidence and dignity. They need to be able to find their way to the worship space, the toilets and be able to get to tea and coffee just like everyone else. Signs are obviously one of the ways we can help guide them around, but we need to ensure that we keep some things in mind.
Whether it’s signs for rooms or labels for cupboards and drawers there are a few things to bear in mind:
Find the right height
You can provide all the signage necessary but if you put it up to high on the wall it might not be seen. As a guideline, it is best to place signs at natural eye level. The best height for a sign is about four to five feet from the floor.
Link colours to rooms
Making the signs for particular rooms all the same colour can be a useful way to guide someone around where they need to go if they’re having trouble reading the words.
- Use common sense when it comes to colour schemes – toilets involve water, so use blue as a colour scheme, gardens have grass, so use green as a colour scheme.
- If the room has a certain colour scheme (a green carpet in the hall where you have coffee), you could put the sign on the same coloured background, so that there is a connection between the signs and the room.
A sign explaining that a door leads to the kitchen or toilet is useful, but only if the person reading it is still able to recognise words and letters. Use signage which includes an image of the room or item associated with it as well as the word. For example, signs for the toilets could have a picture of a toilet on, while signs for the hall where coffee is served could have a picture of a cup on.
Use colour contrast
Think about where you will be putting the signs. If you’re putting them on dark coloured backgrounds like wooden doors, make sure the sign stands out and is easy to see by making it a contrasting colour, or by sticking it onto a piece of white paper before putting it on the door. This will help the person living with dementia to be able to see the sign.
If the toilet is down a corridor or the other side of the church someone with dementia will need help finding their way to it.
- Ensure that signs at journey decision points have an arrow or a finger showing the direction they need to go in.
Remember that once someone has got to the toilets they may equally need signage to help them find their way back to the worship space or the coffee hall, even if it isn’t far. If there are several doors or options for them to take it is best to ensure that there is clear signage to help them find the way back.
If there are rooms that could provide hazards to those living with dementia you could paint the doors the same colours as the wall to make them stand out less, ensure that there are clear no entry signs on them and ensure that they are locked during services.
Beyond Signage - Dementia Friends in the Congregation
It doesn’t matter how good your signage is there is no substitute for the personal touch. It is a real benefit if a good number of people in the congregation have been through a Dementia Friends Awareness session. Whether they are members of Welcome teams, Lay Pastoral Assistants, Hospitality Team, Sidespeople or just members of the congregation. The more people there are in a church who understand dementia the more welcoming and safe the church becomes for someone living with dementia.