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If the person you care about loves to go shopping, you might be relieved to hear that many supermarkets are upping their game and doing their best to ensure customers with dementia are treated well

We were particularly heartened to hear a story this week about a local branch of the Co-op which came up with an ingenious way to help one of its regular customers who sometimes forgot to take enough money with him when he went shopping. Their solution? The manager (who had received dementia training) suggested that his family bought a gift card which staff would keep safe and use if he ran into difficulties… All receipts for items he purchased would then be kept and given to his family, who thought it was a brilliant suggestion.

Of course, this sort of idea would probably only work in a small, local store where staff are familiar with all their customers (and their families). However, it clearly demonstrates how a bit of common sense and ingenuity can go a long way.

So if small, local stores can come up with thoughtful, personalised solutions like this, surely the bigger stores could come up with something even more far reaching?

Back in 2015, we had high hopes for Tesco and Sainsburys who both proudly announced they were piloting the idea of ‘slow shopping;’ a scheme designed to help elderly and disabled customers and those with dementia to enjoy a more relaxed shopping experience.

Tesco got there first, introducing a dementia-friendly checkout to customers in its Chester superstore. The checkout featured cognitive reminders such as images of coins with their value written underneath. Staff using the checkout also received dementia training.

Sainsbury’s quickly followed suit, introducing ‘slow shopping’ to its store in Gosforth. The scheme also included having chairs at the end of aisles so that customers could sit down for a rest, and assistants on hand for anyone who needs help or is confused. So far, so good.

Fast forward three years, and both supermarkets have extended their slow shopping schemes to include two more stores in Scotland, supported by Alzheimer’s Scotland. But, as far as we can see, that’s all. At the same time, we can’t help but notice the massive increase in the number of self-service checkouts in supermarkets across the UK, which can be incredibly intimidating and stressful for anyone with dementia. In fact, many go out of their way to avoid them.

Generally speaking, dementia awareness is increasing, and more supermarket assistants are receiving dementia training, so we can’t help wondering why Tesco and Sainsbury (which have thousands of stores in the UK) couldn’t have made a bit more headway with ‘slow shopping.’ Four stores in three years is slow progress indeed.

After all, dementia is a condition that affects everyone, not just a few elderly customers, a point which all the big players are well aware of. ’Almost every colleague and customer know someone affected by dementia now or in the past,’ Sir Malcolm Walker, the founder of Iceland, admitted recently whilst vowing to make Iceland, the UK’s number one dementia friendly retailer.’

Whether one of his competitors will beat him to it, remains to be seen. But whilst the big stores continue to battle it out, our thoughts are with the people living with dementia who just want to do their shopping and get on with their lives. For them, it’s what happens day to day in their local supermarkets that really matters. And when it comes to the kindness of staff and the accessibility of goods, every little helps.


What do you think? Is your local supermarket friendly and welcoming to people with dementia or could it do better? We’d love to know your thoughts. Let us know your good and bad experiences or join our Unforgettable Dementia Support Group and start a conversation with some like-minded people.