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Senior-Friendly Airports: Flying with Dementia

Kimberley Fowler
By Kimberley FowlerJuly 3, 2017

With airlines like Air Canada and United in the news recently for their poor service to senior passengers, it’s no doubt that air travel presents extreme challenges to people with dementia and their caregivers. The good news is that some countries are taking action. According to a British survey, most families found their time at the airport more difficult than their time in the air. In response, several major British airports have begun adopting new practices to create more dementia-friendly airports.

Learn more about how airports are becoming dementia and senior-friendly around the world.

Airports Educating Staff on How to Be Senior-Friendly

London’s Heathrow Airport has committed to training its 76,000-strong workforce to build their understanding of dementia and other disabilities.

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The goal is to create a more calm and comfortable environment for any passengers living with the disease.

Security, with its long lines and metal detectors, can be one of the likeliest places to trigger anxiety and frustration for passengers with dementia. Heathrow is now examining how security personnel can carry out their job without adding unnecessary stress.

The Lanyard System and Quiet Rooms

Not only has Gatwick Airport (south of London) implemented a similar training campaign, they’ve offered passengers the option of wearing hidden disability lanyards. The voluntary program allows passengers to indicate discretely that they might require additional assistance.

The lanyards are recognizable to staff without any logos or other information, so passengers maintain a sense of privacy. It can also be removed, so caretakers and travelers can choose to only display it when they feel a situation might become especially challenging.

If lanyards aren’t suitable, badges, bracelets and pins are also available. These accessories indicate that the wearer might:

  • Need more time to process information
  • Need to remain with family
  • Need staff to use clear verbal language as it may be difficult to understand facial expressions and/or body language
  • Need staff to be visual with instructions
  • Need a more comprehensive briefing on what to expect as they travel through the airport
  • React to sensory overload

The bustle of airports can also cause passengers living with dementia to become overstimulated. Heathrow plans to create designated “quiet areas” and rooms so passengers can recover from the confusion and stress of the airport there.

Tips for Navigating the Airport

The trend toward dementia and senior-friendly airports will hopefully spread to North America soon, but regardless, it pays to keep the following in mind when traveling with someone living with dementia:

  • Arrive early and avoid the unnecessary stress of rushing
  • Go through security behind your companion, so you will be on hand to assist them
  • Have your companion carry a copy of your name and phone number in case you get separated
  • Speak with airport staff — be clear about the situation, and the capabilities of your loved one
  • Seek out a quiet place — if the airport does not have a designated quiet space, a prayer room can also give you time and space to calm down
  • Travel light — taking less luggage allows you to easily keep within touching distance

Dementia does not have to stop someone from traveling. Even if an airport has not fully adopted dementia-friendly practices, we can learn from the ones that have and take steps to ensure the well-being of our loved ones living with dementia.

What travel tips do you have for someone traveling with a loved one who has dementia? What changes would you like to see in airports to make travel more accessible to those living with dementia? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below. 

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Kimberley Fowler
Kimberley Fowler
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