Tips for dementia-friendly documents
What people with dementia want you to know about creating dementia-friendly documents.
No single format will meet everyone's needs.
Where possible personalise formats to people's known needs.
Using an email address, does not mean someone can read, type or use a computer.
'I use email, but I can’t read on some days now. I have an ipad so I can get Siri to read out things for me.'
'I can receive the survey by email, and read it, but I can't write a reply on the document and send it back - it's too complicated. I'd prefer to give my reply to the survey by phone instead.'
‘Lots of people I know who are living with dementia stop getting electronic versions of documents due to not being able to multi-task between screen, keyboard and mouse on the computer. It happened to me. I started to get them by paper. But it helps to have an ipad as you don't have to multi-task any more – you are the mouse. I find it better than having paper copies. Most people I tell this tip to, go and try it. When I see them again they say that was a brilliant idea.’
'I can sometimes still read if the font is big and there's photographs to help explain the words. I recognise post codes so I can copy them into my phone app to find my way to places.'
Keep written information short, simple and free from jargon and abbreviations.
- 'When I can’t avoid acronyms, I put a list of them in alphabetical order so I can see them in meetings and avoid being the one stopping the meeting to ask what they mean.'
Be sensitive in your use of language. Don't label people.
- 'I can't say it enough, if you've met one person with dementia, you've met one person with dementia - we're all different.'
- '... sometimes you have to be able to say how you are feeling. I do suffer. My family suffers more than me, but I also adapt my life to live with my dementia. It's not that the word 'suffering' itself is always wrong - it’s using it to label people that’s wrong.'
Larger print helps
Many people with dementia also have some visual impairment. As a general rule, use at least Arial size 14 font for printed documents.
Break up blocks of text using bullets, bold and white space.
Chunking can make information easier to process. It helps most people. It can be particularly helpful for people with short-term memory difficulties.
- 'I hate it when people try to squash everything on to one page. I find it much easier when they leave white space, put titles in bold, separate sentences out and use bullet points.'
Use contrasting colours for rows of information.
- ' Definitely! I find it helps to have colour contrasts and white space between rows. I find black writing on white a bit difficult now, but other colours work well.'
Avoid narrow columns of information
People learn to read across a page. It can be confusing trying to read narrow columns - and even physically difficult to keep scrolling on a computer screen or phone.
Printing on coloured paper can be helpful.
There is no single colour that works best for everyone, but many people find yellow or cream paper with black font can be a good colour contrast.
Try printing different types of document for a meeting in different colours - it makes them much easier to find in a pile than having to work out what they are by reading them.
Limited use of images can help explain your words.
- 'It can be helpful - but not using cartoons. The classic one is the coffee cup for when we're due to have a break in the meeting. I find myself wondering 'is that a duck?!'. Photographs of actual places and things work much better for me than cartoons.'
Get feedback on people's experience of your documents
Even if you have a group of people living with dementia who have agreed to a particular template, do check from time to time whether it still works for them.
- People living with dementia may develop access to information needs over time and may not think to mention difficulties unless you ask them, in the moment, whether the document is OK for them.
- If your group gains new members, they may have different access to information needs to existing or previous group members. Asking them early on about how they like to have information and whether your documents are working for them, can be a great way to give them confidence to speak up and to show you are interested in making change to improve their experience where you can.