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

63 comments

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Not heard of this scheme before now: From the past half decade, I found it necessary to put colourful lanyards , along wit her Freedom Pass, with my mother's name, diagnosis, and my contact details inside. After simple explanation re its function, I would place it around her neck, and she wore it. readily. A couple years on, I routinely just placed it around her neck.

Able to take the bus on her own, it gave me peace of mine as the lanyard lay under her coat visible when presented on the bus, not readily visible. I hoped a 'thinking'/observant person in the case of an emergency may search for or see it.
Over the ensuing years, now unable to go out alone, I continued to place one likewise, when leaving her at church, Senior Citizens Club and so on, in case she wandered off. Indeed, a new church member who later became my mother's volunteer Befriender, remarked that noticing the lanyard at church she thought that very sensible.
However, today, I would be disinclined to put a lanyard on my mother if she were once again able to got out on her own: I think this could make her a target to those who pray on the vulnerable.
I think use of these lanyards should be tapered to individual needs and that colour-coding should be just one specific colour to indicate the existence of vulnerability, with a written description/name of the disablity on the back.

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I have a lanyard, but thet are not well known yet.
I had to explain to my doctor.

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As a Community Worker for a Dementia Hub we have been using and promoting the Sunflower Lanyards for well over a year now. Last DAW we gave them away at out Dementia Conference to those who wished to have one. Generally they have been felt by our dementia community to be helpful, especially when travelling through airports.
However, as well as the comments about how they could make people vulnerable, now that the general public are becoming more aware about them my concern is that the Sunflower Lanyard system will become meaningless if anyone ( not just those living with dementia) can 'pick one up'. I would prefer it if this scheme now was linked to GP surgeries/ hospitals etc so should anyone who has a GENUINE hidden disability can have one and not just anyone who can pick them up from a supermarket. The scheme needs tweaking to reduce the risk of the lanyards being abused by unscrupulous people.

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Where can i get the Lanyard for my Wife

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I went to Sainsbury's in Stafford today to get a lanyard for my husband (mixed dementia) and was told they are only for customers while shopping there and have to be handed back after use! I'd happily pay for one as he gets anxious when we are out and about and I am sure it would help him - especially in shoes, railway stations etc. . I was very disappointed as I read others seem to be able to get them.

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Can these be supplied to doctor's surgery and will there be a charges involved I think this benefit the patient who's love one effected by dementia

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As good a scheme as the sunflower lanyard is there are a few concerns that surround it. It does help highlight that the wearer is a vulnerable person, also in wearing the lanyard it doesn’t mean people will automatically treat you in the way you would expect.
My local Sainsbury’s which I believe are listed as a place to get a sunflower lanyard from regularly lets a lady with dementia be passed over to pharmacy staff as they seem to be unable to support her accordingly.
I have witnessed this on a number of occasions and the poor treatment of the lady ends up with her becoming more anxious and agitated.
I have raised my concern to staff only to be brushed off in a very dismissive manner and told they do have staff trained in dementia. I have seen no evidence of this. I feel it’s a poor show that a supermarket who advertises that it supports such a scheme but is failing the very people it’s meant to support.

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Please advertise this more so that the general public are aware of the lanyard. I had not heard of it at all until the email from your organisation!

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For those reluctant to wear a lanyard would it be possible to have either an identifying sticker on their passport or an insert that highlights the additional need discretely at check-in, thereby saving embarrassment but accessing assistance. I know this is less visible than the lanyard but it does accommodate the wishes of those not willing to broadcast their disability to all and sundry.

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Where can I pick up a lanyard ?

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I’ve seen mention of the sunflower on social media but nothing about where it has come from and what it means. I was a bit bemused but I haven’t googled it yet.
I guess the AS are concerned about this new flower eclipsing the forget-me-not?

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Never heard of this scheme before. Now I have to try and get one! I don't know if it would be enough to tempt us back to trying an airport...but I'd love to think it might just be enough.

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Last year I flew twice from Gatwick South Terminal with Thomas Cook wearing my Lanyard - All staff (Airport & T.C.) were brilliant and asked if I wanted any assistance or help. The return airport staff (Paphos) were as helpful.
Recently flew with TUI from Gatwick North Terminal. I was wearing a Lanyard and had booked 'Assistance'. TUI staff obviously had no idea what the Lanyard was, and when I asked TUI staff where the 'Assistance' desk was, I just received a shrug of the shoulders and they walked away. Last time I fly with TUI

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My caree and I happily each wear a badge I designed that states "we are living with dementia- please be patient" we have never felt vulnerable and it has given him back a degree of independence and a certain amount of confidence he was losing. He now happily goes in to shops alone, while I wait outside, as he doesn't now feel awkward or that he is holding up the queue as he did before. He doesn't have to get flustered and feel in the way. People understand if they know. We would welcome this lanyard idea. For those worried about vulnerability if it doesn't give your issue it's just a general notification that you have a problem I don't feel it is flagging up a vulnerable person.

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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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I agree with this .... My caree and I both wear a badge stating we are living with dementia. It gives him his freedom when we are out and about as he feels I won't "lose him " he wears an identity bracelet with directions to my phone number if police/medics are called. It's his security.... Makes him feel he can do things independently, gives him a confidence be was losing . He doesn't feel vulnerable or labeled he feels empowered

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