Why public toilets need to be more dementia friendly

Where public toilets are provided, poor design and signage are often barriers to independent use, particularly for people living with dementia. We explain why public toilets need to be more dementia friendly.

Those affected by dementia arguably have the greatest need to quickly find, use, and safely exit a public toilet or a toilet within a shop or restaurant. But they face some of the greatest difficulties in doing so.

Inadequate toilet facilities have distressing consequences. They mean a lower quality of life for people with dementia, and increased levels of anxiety when out and about.

The negative impact of badly designed public toilets

Many older adults avoid going about their everyday lives because of the lack and inaccessible nature of publically available toilet facilities.

Where public toilets are provided, poor design and signage are often barriers to independent use, particularly for people living with dementia.

For those living with dementia, the ability to live a normal life through day-to-day activities such as shopping or meeting friends in the community is affected. This can lead to social isolation, loneliness, and a loss of independence.

Community-wide change is needed

Driving awareness of the need to make change is critical if the situation is to improve. Local authorities, retailers and businesses on the high street, community groups all have a part to play.

Public bodies such as local authorities even have a duty in law to make reasonable adjustments that mean people with conditions such as dementia are able to use their services, including when providing public toilets.

Guidance on making public toilets dementia friendly

Appropriate toilet provision and design vary widely but a range of help and information is available to make public facilities accessible and dementia friendly. By publicising the guidance already available we can all help to raise awareness of the current situation.

The Dementia Friendly Business Guide has information on ways to make toilets dementia friendly. These include the use of familiar or automatic flush systems, non-reflective surfaces, lighting, the contrast between doors and surroundings, and clearly labelled taps and soap dispensers.

Small improvements can make a big difference

Very simple and straightforward changes can also be made, like having clear entrance and exit signs. Public toilets lacking these can cause distress and embarrassment and a reluctance to use the facility in the future.

Common examples include carers having to enter opposite-sex public toilets to guide their partners out, or the person going through the wrong door and becoming lost.

A fire exit sign showing someone running with a directional arrow is also easily misunderstood as an exit sign. Similarly, doors that are both a fire exit and the route back to a public area can cause confusion.

Public and private sectors must take action

The negative impact this issue can have on the lives of people affected by dementia cannot be overstated. Public and private sectors need to recognise the lack of dementia friendly toilet facilities as an important issue and to take prompt corrective action.

What is an inconvenient problem for most of us can be an insurmountable problem for those living with dementia - changes that help people with dementia make life easier for all.

  • Become a dementia friend - Learn more about what it is like to live with dementia and turn your understanding into action.
  • Toilet problems and continence - Read more information on our website about what causes problems with using the toilet and incontinence, and how they might affect a person with dementia.
Become a Dementia Friend today

This post was written and published on 31st August 2017 by Alan Taylor, Programme Partnership Manager at Alzheimer's Society and Angela Clayton-Turner, former carer for her husband who had dementia. With thanks for content reproduced and adapted as published in the Lancet, August 2017 by Tales A, Burholt V, Nash P, Bichard JA, Clayton-Turner A; on behalf of 16 signatories. Dementia-friendly public toilets. Lancet 2017; 390: 552–53.

This post was last updated on 19th July 2021. 



Id like to register my business as a dementia freindly toilet facility how do i.go about it

Hi Leeanne, thanks for your comment.
We currently don’t have a recognition process where we can accredit organisations as being a ‘dementia-friendly organisation’. This is due to capacity within our team and also because there is always something more you can to do become more dementia friendly! To find out about further actions you can take to become more dementia friendly, please consult our Dementia Friendly Business Guide (https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/form/order-dementia-friendly-business-gui…) and other helpful resources (https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-involved/dementia-friendly-communitie…).

If you would like to be part of a recognition process, we would suggest you look into joining a Dementia Friendly Community. A Dementia Friendly Community is a village, town or city in which local organisations have joined together to support people affected by dementia. For more information on what this involves, please take a look at the Dementia Friendly Communities page on the website (https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-involved/dementia-friendly-communities). If you are interested in joining your local DFC please let us know and we can link you up with your local Dementia Friendly Communities Officer.
Thanks again!
Dementia Friendly Communities Team
Alzheimer's Society

I decided where possible to use disabled toilets purely cause it means I can go as well in the certain knowledge my husband can't wander off.

Great article Ann. I too found it difficult taking my sick sister out as she constantly wanted to go to the toilet. For us really helped Alzheimers Society. Thank Alzheimers Society for such a help.

It has to be said that a lot of UK public toilets are in a dreadful state! I often need the loo in a hurry, and even finding a public toilet is usually a problem. Bad signs - or no signs at all... Locked toilets, even in ordinary shopping hours, and faults with doors, toilets, washbasins and taps...! Filthy toilets, no toilet paper, no washing facilities! Unpleasant and unhelpful personnel manning the toilets!

It has often put me into a right old panic. A big campaign is needed....


Well done Ann. I too found it difficult taking my Mother out as she constantly wanted to go to the toilet, this was just part of her dementia problem.

Like you I used the disabled toilet for her as it was the only one with sufficient room for us both. I wouldn't dare take her to a toilet where she could fiddle with a bolt and get herself trapped and become more distraught.

I am sorry to say that despite the wonderful work the Alzheimers Society does there is still alot of ignorance out there of dementia.

I find using disabled toilets the best. Have learnt to only going to places that have them. If toilets are unsuitable or in a place which makes them inaccessible I complain to the manager. i find it is the large chains of restaurants are the worse culprits!!