University partners with Heathrow to support passengers with dementia

The University of Plymouth has partnered with Heathrow Airport to launch new guidance to support passengers with dementia through air travel.

The team held an event in Terminal 5 to launch the new guidance, entitled Flying with Dementia, and spread awareness about the importance of understanding how to help those with dementia and their travel companions. The airport also explained the various ways the terminals have been adapted to support these passengers when travelling.

See the guidance

The guidance was put together following a recommendation by the Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge Group for Air Transport chaired by University Academic partnership Lead for Dementia, Ian Sherriff BEM, with key contribution from Dr Alison Warren, Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy at the University of Plymouth. The guide also draws heavily on PhD research undertaken by Kate Turner, Lecturer in Occupational Therapy at the University of Plymouth, with the innovative use of cartoons by nationally acclaimed artist, Tony Husband, to highlight research findings.  

Presenter and dementia ambassador, Angela Rippon, attended the event, alongside academics from the University’s Plymouth Institute of Health and Care Research (PIHR).

Ian said: 

“It’s been great to work with colleagues to compile this guidance and then collaborate with Heathrow to promote it. Air travel can be difficult to navigate regardless of dementia, especially with the considerations and restrictions the pandemic has brought along, so anything we can do to empower people is really important.

“This guide follows on from another that the University published back in September for the dental profession. It’s important that everybody knows how to support people with dementia, so to be able to partner up with industries and share guidance and best practice among the public is vital.”

The pandemic has meant the process of travelling internationally has become more complicated and confusing for many passengers, particularly for those with dementia. It is more important than ever that the aspects of air travel that people can control are dementia friendly to reduce stress and confusion.    

Sara Marchant, Heathrow’s Service Manager for Passenger Requiring Support, said: 

“My role involves making Heathrow as accessible as it can be for people with a whole range of disabilities. I often have dementia in mind when I am planning for accessibility as I believe that if you get it right for people living with dementia, you get it right for most people, regardless of whether they are disabled or not.  
“In aviation we are governed by so many processes, procedures and regulations that it is easy to forget that at the heart of everything we do is people – with all their complexities and uniqueness. If you have met someone with dementia, you have met one person with dementia – everybody is different and the disease can impact them in many different ways.  

“The most important thing to enable most people to live well with dementia are understanding and kindness and we can all give those without any medical training or knowledge – it takes no time to care.”

If you come across somebody who you think may have dementia you can help them by:

  • being friendly and approachable
  • asking one question at a time and waiting for the answer before you ask anything else
  • depending on the circumstances, you might want to ask them if they would like a sunflower lanyard to wear whilst they are at the airport.  

 A sunflower lanyard acts as a discreet signifier to colleagues that the person wearing it (or somebody in their party) has a non-visible disability and may need a little more help or time.

See the Heathrow Hidden disabilities page for more on the sunflower lanyard scheme.


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