A person wearing his sunflower lanyard and chatting

Hidden disabilities and dementia: Can a sunflower lanyard help me?

Sunflower lanyards have become a popular way for organisations to spot if someone has a non-visible disability, such as dementia. But are lanyards the best way to get support, and is there an element of risk for people with dementia? We explore this divisive topic.

What is a sunflower lanyard?

Many businesses and organisations are taking part in a sunflower lanyard scheme for non-visible disabilities.

In 2016, a UK airport first introduced green lanyards with a sunflower design. The intent was to discreetly signal to staff that the wearer (or someone with them) may need more time and support while travelling.

Now, there are supermarkets, railway stations and visitor attractions that are adopting the scheme.

Over one million lanyards have been provided to businesses, as well as directly to the general public. Sunflower wristbands, badges and T-shirts are also available.

A man with hidden disabilities wearing his sunflower lanyard

How might sunflower lanyards help people with dementia?

At the airport

Heather Roberts, who has metabolic dementia, loves to travel with her husband, Dave.

She has had a positive experience of wearing the sunflower lanyard while at the airport.

‘We've had excellent experiences with the lanyard scheme when flying from Manchester and Birmingham.

'Through our travel company, we registered in advance with airports as having a hidden disability. On arrival at the airport, the sunflower lanyard was available to pick up from the assistance desk.

'I struggle in queues, so I was accompanied to the front of the check-in and security lines and helped through the process. This made life so much easier and less stressful.'

'Being allowed to pre-board means I am settled in my seat before the melee starts. Staff have also moved me to the front of the plane for some quiet space, all at no extra cost.

'Previously on our return journeys, we’ve had difficulties at passport control. Dave does not seem to be able to go through the electronic gates when I can. This means we get separated for quite some time while Dave joins a queue to have his passport manually checked.

'However, wearing the lanyard allowed us to go directly to the passport desks via the fast-track aisle. This meant we could stay together and get processed with no fuss. Theborder officers have always been very helpful when they see the lanyard.‘

Why do some people disagree with the sunflower lanyard scheme?

While many are benefitting from hidden disability lanyard schemes, some people are wary of potential risks, particularly in non-secure or unrestricted environments.

Here are a few reasons why wearing a lanyard may not be a solution for everyone:

1. People without lanyards may need support, too.

We don't want staff to only rely on looking for lanyards. People with hidden disabilities who aren't participating in the scheme - either because they are not aware of it, or do not want to wear one - might be affected by this.

A person shouldn't have to make their hidden disabilities visible to be supported. Customers should be supported on an individual basis and not grouped or labelled. Not everyone's support needs are the same.

2. This lanyard scheme isn’t widely enough known, yet.

A hidden disability lanyard scheme is only as good as people’s awareness.

For a scheme to be effective at airports, it would require knowledge and understanding from security staff, airline crew and the destination airport. It may also be helpful for other passengers to know what the lanyard represents.

3. Lanyards could create a safety issue.

People with dementia can sometimes face stigma and exploitation, which may put them at risk.

There is a danger of vulnerable adults or children becoming more identifiable when wearing a lanyard, badge or wristband. This is especially the case if unaccompanied or in public areas, which are not secure.

What does Alzheimer's Society think?

It's your decision whether you find the lanyard scheme useful. Many people with dementia really like their sunflower lanyard and find the scheme helpful.

It's also the choice of the person with dementia who they reveal their diagnosis to. Someone with dementia might not remember they have the condition. 

If they have capacity to consent, a person with dementia should be able to weigh up the pros and cons of the scheme.

Alzheimer's Society wants businesses and organisations to help customers as individuals. We support more awareness and training of dementia and other complex conditions. 

What do we encourage businesses and organisations to do?

If businesses are using the lanyards, we encourage them to become Dementia Friends. Our Dementia Friends initiative helps individuals and organisations to learn more about dementia and take action to support those affected by dementia in their community.

Alzheimer's Society also has specialist training courses for businesses and individuals, as well as sector-specific resources for organisations.

Businesses and organisations should make changes that will help people with dementia.

Under the Equality Act, organisations must make reasonable adjustments for both customers and employees. Therefore, processes and procedures should pick up when people need support, not self-identifying.

Organisational improvements could also include listening to customer feedback or changing environments.

The Department of Transport has committed to reviewing all identification schemes. This is to see whether a standard should be introduced to reduce confusion.

Free helpcards for people with dementia or memory problems

Our Helpcards are a discreet way for people with dementia to get assistance more easily when out in the community. One design is double-sided with space on the front for people to record what they might need help with and space on the back for an emergency contact. The fold-out cards can include extra information such as details about medical conditions. The cards are great for helping someone with dementia to maintain their independence while staying safe. 

Learn more

43 comments

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I am aware that the wearing of a lanyard in a car in which there is an accident and the air bags go off, can puncture the chest of a person. It may be worthwhile considering this. Otherwise i think it an excellent idea.

How will we recognise the lanyard when there are no pictures on the website - or have I missed it?

Thanks

Thank you for your feedback. We have added a close up of the lanyard now.

Alzheimer's Society content team.

Where can I get a lanyard for my wife?

From the airport service desk, although I ordered it in advance.

I picked a lanyard up for my husband from Sainsbury’s, I had a badge made with his name also my contact details as when we are out he does wander.
He is very happy to wear it it makes him feel more secure but he won’t tell anyone he has dementia Lol
I think these lanyards are a good idea and gives us both peace of mind

Don't you think it might have proved beneficial to have shown what this sunflower lanyard actually looks like?

A good idea which should be supported .

The green lanyard system is fantastic, we fly about four times a year, mainly through necessity. A friend who volunteers at Heathrow Airport told me about it, it is not widely advertised. However, flying out of of LHR last time I couldn’t understand why everyone was being so helpful until I remembered my wife was wearing the lanyard. When someone doesn’t have any outwards signs of dementia, and is getting a bit confused, it signals to others to be a bit more patient. It would be great if everyone was patient with everyone, but that is simply not the case. I am sorry it only works in the UK, and would love it to be more internationally recognized, as we are all flying somewhere.

I have worn my lanyard for a couple of years now and it is recognised in quite a few airports abroad. J. F. K., Florida, Barbados and Jamaica to name a few. I admit that my husband approached a member of staff in Jamaica but once he mentioned the lanyard my journey was made simple. Even flight crews are beginning to be aware of the lanyards.
I will say that even without the lanyard, I have been given great treatment once my husband has mentioned that I have a problem.
There are people who don't like others to know that they have a problem but.... If you need help, for goodness sake ask for it.

Am very sceptical as this also advertises the fact there is a vulnerable person here and think will be exploited by people who prey on the vulnerable

Completely agree with this comment!

I think this is an excellent idea. As of now I am being tested for MCI ( Mild Cognitive Impairment ). I’m 55 and scared.. I definitely like the idea. Not to mention how this article just showed up at a great time for me. I would definitely wear this. How do I go about getting one please? And Thank You for this information and article!! 😉

I have one myself as l am visually impaired. It's been very helpful

I am flying to Switzerland in May with my husband who has been diagnosed with mild dementia.
Is it possible to order a lanyard or bracelet in advance before we go.
My husband has great difficulty passing through security .
Thank you

I think the lanyard is an excellent idea and is modern and trendy so Dementia people will it be put off wearing them

I think Peter meant to say that “Dementia people will NOT be put off wearing them”

My 92 year old mother has stage 4 Alzheimer's. She is a stubborn and difficult woman who is in denial of her condition. She will not wear anything which could assist her in any accidental situation where she needed help eg.an alarm pendant or bracelet. She
loathes her walking stick and deliberately hides it , saying she has no use for it. Mother lives on her own and shuns company unless it is family. Her demise increases rapidly. The sunflower lanyard is an excellent way of highlighting dementia awareness. For my mother however, it would be a badge of dishonour. She puts on a good deceptive act when in company but reminders of her condition are strongly dismissed and disregarded.

Sounds very similar to my own beloved mum, who will NOT wear around her neck and hence is forever looking for her key on which it is attached 😇

I only found out about these when picking up a parcel in Argos otherwise, I would of been non the wiser

I think it’s an excellent idea!! We live in the U.S.. I wish we had this program here.
Have you thought of making this a global initiative?

I'm 75 and have had Alzheimer's Disease for three years.

1: The usefulness of a HANDICAP INDICATOR depends on how EASILY and WIDELY it is SEEN and RECOGNISED.

2: But many indicators also INCREASE SOME RISKS BY INDICATING A VULNERABILITY, and don't offer any DEFENCE AGAINST ATTACK.

3: The WALKING STICK must be THE MOST WIDELY RECOGNISED MOBILITY AID IN THE WORLD. It automatically warns others that the user has a degree of handicap, and is very useful in travel terminals, shops or hospitals, and on steep slopes and uneven ground. FOLDING STICKS are useful for air travellers etc.

4: A STICK OF ANY COLOUR WILL DISCOURAGE THIEVES OR ATTACKERS, and help to keep them at a distance.

5: But a stick CAN BE GRABBED and USED AGAINST ITS OWNER, or DROPPED at inconvenient moments. It should have a thin LANYARD around the wrist, NOT STRONG ENOUGH TO TRAP THE USER if the stick is grabbed.

6: LANYARDS are widely used to signal handicaps but are also used for many other purposes, so may be confusing.

4: As far as I am aware, the use of DISTINCTIVE LANYARDS to INDICATE SPECIFIC CONDITIONS HAS NOT YET BEEN AGREED INTERNATIONALLY.

5: LANYARDS CAN PRESENT SIGNIFICANT RISKS TO USERS, since they offer EASY AND DISABLING HANDHOLDS TO ATTACKERS, and could become TRAPPED IN DOORS AND MOVING MACHINERY.

6: LANYARDS MUST HAVE A WEAK LINK (e.g. a plastic clip) to reduce the risk of trapping or harming the wearer.

7: PRETTY COLOURED LANYARDS sold by some supermarkets etc as indicators of indicators of handicap are NOT, as far as I know, RECOGNISED nationally or internationally. They are NOT MUCH MORE THAN MARKETING GIMMICKS.

8: In my view a lightweight folding STICK is the most convenient and useful indicator of a degree of health difficulty, and if coloured WHITE is also a worldwide indicator of POOR SIGHT. It is excellent for FENDING OFF UNDESIRABLES of many sorts, including dogs, pickpockets, salesmen, mobs of children and offensive hotel doormen.

We don’t fly, where else can we get these from.

Michael,
My question exactly. We live in Scotland. This system is absolutely news to me.

Can buy them in Sainsburys ask at customer services

Sainsbury’s and Argos and M&S are all advertising them

Tesco have them as do Sainsbury’s and they are free

My argument has always been that if you see someone with a white walking stick you are instantly aware that he or she is visually impaired.
I have long wanted something like this that is immediately and indeed nationally recognizable for when I am out and about with my husband who has dementia. It is not that I want help or assistance, simply that if perhaps he suddenly decides to burst into song in the middle of the supermarket or starts behaving in what some may consider a strange manner then those around him will immediately be aware of the situation and hopefully understand and make allowances.
I don’t know if the lanyard is the answer but it is certainly a move in the right direction!

I USED MY SUNFLOWER LANYARD AT MANCHESTER AIRPORT ON THE 27 JANUARY WHAT A DIFFERENCE IT MADE THE STAFF WERE SO HELPFULL I WILL BE USING IT MORE OFTEN NOW

An excellent idea! I am not sure how this would take off in South Africa, as there are a number of misconceptions about Dementia. Being involved with the George Alzheimer Support Group in the Western Cape, I intend making this known to our members at our next monthly meeting. We have been successful in making more people in our city of George, and the surrounding towns, more aware of this hidden condition. It is certainly worthwhile investigating. Thank you for the information.

My bf has Dementia.live in USA so can't get one.but you can tell he has it for sure.he has frontlobal brain damage drinking bipolar dementia and blood clot brain right now.he only 55 prayers

Lanyard worLdwide is a must
We flew to new York last year from Iceland with our 2 kids 12 & 15 & were split goin thro security cause my oldest was taken for search I had to go with him leaving my 12yr n my husband who has Alzhemiers to get to themselves downstairs to wait on us - it was very stressful for my 12yr old if a lanyard system had been put in place etc we’d have gone through all together

We flew from Birmingham airport last August and my granddaughter got in touch with the airport before hand we were given the lanyard for my husband who has Alzheimer' s,the staff were so helpful . Our party of 7 were all taken to the gate by a very friendly man on a motorized cart. We are flying from there again in a few weeks and have no reservations this time.

My husband and I have just flown to Tenerife the first time since being diagnosed, we picked up a Lanyard at Manchester Airport and it was a godsend , the help received was brilliant, my husband who's been going through denial has spoken openly to people who've asked what they're all about and in Tenerife he wears it all the time like he's proud to own it so I've just let him get on with it, I'm all for them

I would like 2, one for my partner as well,
how do I get one?

Leaving Luton airport next week with my husband who has vascular dementia so have applied for a lanyard. So hope it takes away the stress and anxiety

We travelled from Birmingham airport last year and my granddaughter contacted the airport to ask for special assistance for my husband who has Alzheimer's disease and doesn't like the queues, we were given the sunflower lanyard and the help we had was wonderful everybody was so helpful and friendly. It took a lot of anxiety away as we didn't know how he would cope. We are travelling from Birmingham next month again and I'm not at all worried. I urge anyone in our position to get one and keep travelling as long as you can.

I've just flown to Tenerife with my husband, I picked up a Lanyard from Manchester Airport what a brilliant idea, got through booking in and customs so fast into plane first , husband doesn't like anyone to know he has Dementia but when people asked him what he was wearing he talked about it openly and to be honest he's wearing it everywhere we go

My husband is 58 and was diagnosed with Young On set Altzhimers 3 years ago. He has no insight to his diagnosis, thankfully and unfortunately his Altzhimers is very aggressive.
We we're first introduced to the lanyard at Belfast International Airport on our return to Birmingham Airport.
My husband is a young man, 6ft tall and unfortunately can be vocal when out or over friendly towards people. Being so young people's attitudes towards him have been quite upsetting as they presume he is going to harm them and he must be a trouble maker. Its been very upsetting and distressing watching people's reactions towards him.
Although he wears a lanyard, people still reacted the same until I explained to them he has Altzhimers then their attitudes change. I tell them about the sunflower lanyards and none of the people have heard of it and what it symbolises!. EVEN SOME STAFF IN SOME TESCOs WE'VE BEEN IN!!.
I have also made my husband a card that is attached to the lanyard which tells people what he has. I did this purely because so many people DON'T know about the lanyard and what it symbolises.!!. My friends who are nurses, some doctors and consultants are not aware either. It really makes me cross.
I would like the sunflower symbol to be as known as the pink Cancer bow so come on government make this happen, I'm fed up with having to explain what is wrong with my husband to everyone he comes into contact with. CAN AN ADVERT NOT BE MADE so 'Joe Public' know and recognise the sunflower. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE ACT.!!!.

We travel to Spain 4 or 5 times a year. My husband has mixed dementia and gets very agitated at times. The Sunflower lanyard has helped us a lot as has the Special Assistance service. The lanyard was especially helpful when he had a bit of a melt down in the plane as the Jet2 staff knew immediately he wasn’t a difficult passenger but had a hidden disability. The stewardess came to talk to me about their training as we were waiting to get off, very interesting.
They have lanyards at Tesco and Sainsbury’s for definite but not sure where else.

Perhaps this scheme could be rolled out wider than airports and into everyday life so that shop assistants, taxi drivers and public transport operatives, to suggest a few, are aware. What about a sunflower sticker in publicly accessible shops, offices, cafes etc to show, after training, that they are dementia friendly. I am also concerned about visibly highlighting a vulnerable person.

My husband has Alzheimer’s and I applied for one of these before travelling from Heathrow in October. Going through security can be problematic, but not on this occasion where staff were courteous and helpful. So many people wear this kind of thing theses days that he didn’t feel conspicuous and accepted wearing it. As it is available to people with hidden disabilities, it could cover a range of problems .
Hopefully it will become used more widely and eventually internationally.

Was travelling to a cruise in the canaries with wife Jean and son , at airport this lady spotted jean had on her Lanyard and escorted us to security where she helped us to get through this awkward dilemma as with me having a pacemaker it normally takes longer we just sailed through , so thank you Edinburgh Airport for you help.

My husband wears one quite happily and I have attached a photo of us both and message to say he is nearly always with me. This is reassurance in shops, museums etc as he can just wander off and get disorientated and I now hope someone finding him will look for me and not call police. He carries a card but with so many jacket and trouser pockets he would forget or be unable to find it. He also finds it reassuring that others may notice and be extra patient.

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