Sainsbury’s has become the first supermarket to introduce “dementia-friendly” lavatories thanks to a campaigning pensioner who was routinely forced to rescue her Alzheimer’ssufferer husband.
The national chain has promised to install large, colourful “way out” signs in all of its stores to prevent customers with the degenerative condition becoming confused.
It follows growing awareness that traditional signs and lighting schemes can be disorientating for people with the disease.
Many patients who are able to take themselves to the lavatory nevertheless find it challenging to navigate out of unfamiliar public settings.
The pledge by Sainsbury’s marks a personal victory for Angela Clayton-Turner, 77, who said she had been required to enter the men’s lavatories in supermarkets “more than I care to remember” because her late husband Ted, who died aged 75,was unable to get out.
It comes after she co-authored an article in published in The Lancet Report detailing the difficulty dementia sufferers have.
“I have been talking about the difficulty my husband had finding his way out of public toilets for some years,” she said.
“If affected my dignity going into male toilets.
“You go in with your hands over your eyes as you aren’t quite sure what you are going to find in there.”
Recent years have seen a concerted drive to redesign hospitals and care homes to make them more amenable to people with dementia.
This includes high-contrast measures to show where the floor joints the wall, obvious visual breaks to mark where handrails are ending and doors painted a distinctive colour.
Lighting levels also need to be higher, with experts estimating that people over 75 need roughly twice as much light as normal standards recommend, and nearly four times as much as a 20-year-old to see satisfactorily.
Since 2012, 168 NHS trusts have formally committed to make their premises easier to use for dementia patients.
In numbers | Dementia and Alzheimer's
Estimated number of people in the UK with dementia
Estimated number of people in the UK with Alzheimer's disease
Dementia mainly affects people over the age of 65. One in 14 people in this age group have dementia
However, dementia can affect younger people too. There are 42,000 people in the UK under the age of 65 with dementia
Estimated number of people expected to be living with dementia in the UK by 2021
Source: Alzheimer's Society
Emma Bould, from the Alzheimer's Society, said: "We are delighted to see toilets with dementia friendly signage being installed nationally at all Sainsbury's stores by March 2018.
"Finding and exiting toilets can often be confusing for people living with dementia, causing anxiety when they are out and about."
She added: "This small but significant step will enable people with dementia to quickly find the exit, while also making the route clearer to all customers."
Approximately 850,000 people currently suffer with dementia in the UK, although that number is set to exceed one million by 2025 and hit two million by 2051.
Roughly one in six people have the condition over the age of 80.
Mrs Clayton-Turner, of Beckenham, south east London, said: "Our report shows many older adults start to avoid going about their everyday lives because of the lack, or inaccessibility, of public toilets."
A spokesman for Sainsbury’s: “Accessible toilet facilities play a very important role in helping to ensure that all our customers feel comfortable when shopping with us.
“We’re always looking at ways to create an environment that meets the needs of our customers and we’re delighted to be the first supermarket to install these signs in our store toilets across the UK.”
The Alzheimer's Society has launched a Dementia Friendly Retail Guide to support businesses in improving their premises for people with the condition.