Travelling Well with Dementia

This blog was written by Andy Hyde from Upstream, reflecting on their conference ‘Travelling Well With Dementia’, held on the 7th December 2016.

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Planning a journey. We’d all done it in order to arrive that day but maybe not really thought about it too much. We might have put up with a frustrating web site, weighed up cost-versus-convenience or different ways to get to the Festival Theatre. But what if you’re living with dementia and you’ve lost the confidence to even consider such a journey?  This was just one of the topics that we mulled over in discussion groups at Upstream’s Travelling well with Dementia event last week.

In recent months we’ve been bumping into lots of interesting people, hearing about their projects and initiatives and making connections around mobility, transport and travelling with dementia.

So we thought it would be good if Upstream could start joining up some of these conversations, connecting people and start turning talk into action.

Last week’s event at the Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre was our first attempt at doing this. Around 60 people travelled from across the UK to hear about Upstream and more. We’re busy writing up the outputs of the discussions and we’ll share these soon. In the meantime, here’s a brief summary of the day…

As participants arrived we drew our journeys and shared our stories of our trip to the venue – just like we do in our Upstream workshops.  Rich stories emerged about the highs and lows of getting out and about.

Tommy Dunne opened the event with humour, warmth and some hard-hitting truths about travelling with dementia.  After many years working in the transport industry, Tommy now co-chairs the Service Users Reference Forum (SURF) in Liverpool and works with transport operators to help them understand the realities of travelling with dementia, using his own experiences.  Tommy gave us some great context and insight to start the afternoon off, describing his experiences of travelling by train and bus and the need for a greater understanding from operator staff and fellow passengers alike. A key message from Tommy was the need to enable people to travel in order to reduce the very real dangers of loneliness and isolation.

It was stories like this that prompted us to start Upstream. Wendy Mitchell had also written a timely blog post the day before about her experiences of travel – unfortunately Wendy couldn’t join us but we shared some key points from her post with participants.

We shared what we’re learning at Upstream and talked about developing models for shared experiences which allow transport operators to work together with people affected by dementia.  We can only respond to the challenges of travelling if we move from dementia awareness to a deeper understanding of how a service currently works (or not) for people living with dementia and develop a vision for a new reality where transport always acts as an enabler rather than a barrier. Upstream could facilitate the experiences and conversations that can lead to this understanding and then help to make service redesign happen.

Paula Brown from the Arora Dementia Friendly Community based at An Lanntair in Stornoway, touched on the work that we’ve been doing together in the Western Isles, including the workshops at Stornoway airport that might hopefully lead to involving people affected by dementia in reviewing airport services. Oh, and some of those remote bus stops we’d visited on Lewis…

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Similarly, Sarah Geoghegan from Alzheimer Scotland reflected on Upstream workshops in Aberdeen and our connections with Aberdeen airport. We have engaged with a range of staff there and, following an Upstream workshop and several Dementia Friends sessions, the airport terminal management are interested to explore how we can involve people affected by dementia in reviewing airport services.

Lee Glen from Dementia Friendly Dunbar gave some personal reflections on the shared journey we took with Virgin Trains from Dunbar to Waverley Station and noted how several people in the group had learned a good deal about the assistance that is available to them when travelling by train.

James McKillop told us about an experiendriving-with-dementia-front-pagece that we encounter on a regular basis in our workshops and discussions – giving up driving. James drove for a number of years after a diagnosis of dementia but after his application for an extension to his licence was refused he experienced a difficult time coming to terms with not being able to legally drive even though he felt capable.

He told of his experience of eventually driving again, under controlled conditions.

It was a powerful story, emotional and yet hopeful. You can read more about James’ story here.

We were lucky enough to have Samantha Berry from OCS at Gatwick Airport join us to talk about their lanyard scheme, an option for passengers with hidden disabilities to discretely alert airport staff to their need for a little more time or help. As Samantha pointed out, so many people at the airport wear a lanyard that another doesn’t really stand out although it’s distinctive design is known to staff. It seems as if the scheme is popular and there are plans for trying the lanyard in other airports. Samantha also pointed us to Challenging for Change – an OCS report on disabled passengers’ experience of air travel – and the imminent publication of the Civil Aviation Authority’s new guidelines on making air travel more accessible for passengers with hidden disabilities.

Jill Mulholland told us about the development of the Scottish Government’s Accessible Travel Framework ‘Going Further’, working with people with a range of conditions to set out a roadmap for mobility operators to include people with disabilities in the design of new transport services.

We then discussed a range of topics that can be a challenge when travelling with dementia. In addition to planning a journey, we considered going to a hospital appointment, making a connecting (flight/taxi/bus/train…), buying a ticket, going on holiday and others.

To finish up we heard from Chris McCoy, Head of the Accessible Tourism Programme, at VisitScotland followed by Terry Dunn CEO of the ESP Group. Both Chris and Terry reminded us that people want to continue to travel to visit friends, family and destinations. They want to continue to take a holiday … this is a market that transport operators and related organisations have an opportunity to develop products and services for. The key to creating sustainable businesses will be to work closely with people living with dementia to truly understand the challenges and develop solutions using an inclusive design approach.

We think this was the first time that people from transport, health, government, design, the third sector and more had gathered to consider the range of issues that are emerging around the need to enable people affected by dementia to continue to travel well. However, as Agnes Houston reminded us via Twitter that morning, it’s good to talk and listen but we need to turn our words into action if we’re to make a real impact.

This is the key aim for Upstream and, we hope, for those that joined us last week.

 

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