Heathrow And Gatwick – Dementia-Friendly Airports

Written by Active Minds on Wednesday the 18th of January 2017.



Airports can be hectic places at the best of times, they are loud, bright and often crowded. For a person living with dementia they can leave them feeling distressed and anxious. Add to this the long queues, security checks and delayed planes and you can understand why a person with dementia may want to avoid these places as much as possible.

However, recently, a number of British airports have opened their eyes to these issues, and taken dramatic steps to ensure that anyone living with dementia is kept as comfortable as possible during their time at the airport.

Both Heathrow and Gatwick have already spent 2016 training a number of their staff to have a greater understanding and awareness of hidden disabilities, like dementia. Heathrow aims to take this training further, vowing to educate its 76,000 members of staff and become the world’s first dementia-friendly airport.

At Heathrow they are looking at a number of areas of their airport that could become more dementia-friendly, ensuring that any passenger living with dementia will feel comfortable and calm. For example, people with dementia often find the security gates intimidating and stressful. The queues can be lengthy, passengers are then herded through the metal detectors, patted down and their bag may be searched. All of this leads a person living with dementia to feel confused and agitated. Heathrow are looking at training their security guards, giving them a greater understanding of the stresses felt by people living with dementia, and identify ways they can conduct their job without causing unnecessary anxiety.

Heathrow will also be creating designated ‘Quiet Areas’ away from the bright lights and loud hubbub of the main airport, where any distressed or confused passengers can retreat to. Heathrow will assign designated rescue swoop teams who will be able to help any passenger who seems confused or stressed.


Similarly, Gatwick are also looking at ways that they can ensure the airport experience is as calming as possible for a person living with dementia. They were recently awarded the Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Innovation Award for their hidden disability lanyards. The voluntary lanyards are offered to any passenger with a hidden disability, and discreetly alerts airport staff that the passenger may:

  • Need more time to process information or more time to prepare themselves at security
  • Need to remain with family at all times
  • React to sensory overload i.e. be surrounded by too much information
  • Need staff to use clear verbal language as it may be difficult to understand facial expressions and/or body language
  • Need staff to be visual with instructions and use closed questions to assist passengers effectively through the airport
  • Benefit from a more comprehensive briefing on what to expect as they travel through the airport

With other UK airports, like Bristol and Manchester, also offering dementia awareness talks and focus groups for their staff, we look forward to seeing how British airports continue to support people living with dementia.