Felicity Long
Felicity Long

In the past decade or so, Europe has become a lot friendlier to travelers with mobility, vision and other physical issues that can make even routine sightseeing challenging.

That said, the Dementia-Friendly Tourism Guide launched this month by VisitEngland and VisitScotland, adds a layer of nuance to the notion of accessibility by focusing on another group entirely: travelers with dementia.

The joint venture offers tips and strategies that tourism entities can undertake, some of them small and inexpensive, to accommodate visitors in this category.

The word "dementia" is often misunderstood because it's an umbrella term with symptoms that vary from person to person, but the generally accepted definition is that it refers to "diseases and conditions characterized by a decline in memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking skills that affect a person's ability to perform everyday activities," according to the Alzheimer's Association.

Because Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia, the guide was launched in partnership with the U.K.'s Alzheimer's Society, but again, the tips and resources are designed to apply to any traveler with dementia, whether he or she has Alzheimer's or not.

What, then, are the challenges travelers with dementia might face? Disorientation in unfamiliar settings, difficulty communicating in noisy environments and a general lack of confidence top the list of frequent issues, and often the solutions to these problems are surprisingly simple and sometimes attitudinal.

For example, travel sellers can ask travelers and their families up front how they can help, and they can wear nametags and "Dementia Friend" badges to signal that they can be approached with questions. They can also post easy-to-read signage on bathrooms and other facilities, offer clear instructions on public transportation, make restaurant recommendations and reservations and share information on any other dementia-friendly support they offer or are aware of in the destination.

Hotels and tour operators could go one step further by offering free or reduced rates for families and caregivers.

Why do all this, other than that it's the right thing to do -- and that there, someday, may go you or I?

For one thing, this is a potential growth market that can increase revenue. In addition, by promoting the shoulder season to travelers with dementia -- because those offseason months tend to be quieter and less zany -- hotels and other businesses can extend their season.

The guide, which was also developed in conjunction with England's Inclusive Tourism Action Group, lists other benefits businesses could experience along with a number of practical tips and suggestions that are organized around the themes of Information, People and Place.

"Using the practical tips outlined in the guide businesses will make significant improvements to the lives of people living with dementia, their care[givers] and loved ones and drive the economic benefits of tourism further," said Ross Calladine, VisitEngland's head of business support, adding: "The value of this sector is expected to rise to [about $28 billion] by 2020, presenting a great opportunity for tourism businesses to offer the warmest of welcomes to people with dementia."

Sally Copley, director of policy and campaigns at the Alzheimer's Society, said, "Until we find a cure, it's vital that we do everything we can to make sure everyone with dementia can continue to lead full and meaningful lives. VisitEngland and VisitScotland join more than 3 million Dementia Friends and hundreds of communities and other organizations in making this a reality."

The program is part of the U.K. tourism industry's commitment to accessibility in the Tourism Sector Deal, pledging to make the U.K. the most accessible tourism destination in Europe by 2025.


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