Dementia-friendly public toilets

Many older adults avoid travelling and social interaction because of the scarcity of public toilets or their inaccessibility. Furthermore, where public toilets are provided, poor design and signage can preclude independent use, particularly for people living with dementia | The Lancet

Image source: Martin Sotirov – Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In general, there is a gap between current public toilet provision and toilet design appropriate for individuals living with dementia, who might have behavioural change, poor level of motivation, loss of mobility and manual dexterity, or abnormalities in visual information processing. In response to research and anecdotal evidence, many guidelines are available to inform and improve the design and independent usability of toilet facilities for people living with dementia. Examples include the use of familiar or automatic flush systems, non-reflective surfaces, good lighting, contrast between doors and surroundings and between the toilet and toilet seat, sinks that do not resemble urinals, well labelled taps and soap dispensers, and the careful placing of mirrors.

However, as highlighted by a substantial amount of anecdotal evidence, the absence of simple and clear way-out signs negates any positive influence of a well designed toilet facility. Such an omission can result in distress, anxiety, embarrassment, and reluctance to use the toilet in the future. Common examples reported to investigators include instances of people having to enter opposite sex toilet facilities to guide their partners out, or going through the wrong door and into undesired or incorrect locations. A fire exit sign showing someone running with a directional arrow is also easily misunderstood as an exit sign, which can result in misdirection with people ending up outside the building and, in some cases, wandering on to a road. Similarly, doors that are both a fire exit and the route back to a public area can cause confusion, and might elicit a reluctance to open them, primarily because of the fear of setting off a fire alarm.

Full reference: Tales, A. et al. (2017) Dementia-friendly public toilets. The Lancet Vol. 390 (no. 10094) pp. 552–553

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