Maps, pictures and more stories

Alzheimer Scotland's Solas Day centre in Stornoway provides a place for people with dementia to meet and socialise. Steve and I were offered the chance to talk about travelling and transport with a group there during our visit earlier this week and we were met with a warm welcome.

This session was a little different - many of those we met haven't used public transport for a while. However, the conversations were still valuable and hopefully an enjoyable experience for the group. It got us thinking about the processes we use and the activities we might develop for future groups. There was a lot of reminiscence happening so we talked about transport that people used to use.

Local bus companies came up a lot and Paula drew a bus as people described it - the colours, the distinctive shape, where people sat. We talked about how people knew which route the bus took because of its colour...

And we talked about the differences today. It's busier and noisier. Somebody mentioned that they are usually driven places these days - it's convenient and comfortable but actually they miss the chat and hearing the news from friends . We've heard this before - there's community on a bus.

We also heard some amazing stories from childhood - of people knitting while walking while carrying creels of peat...

We didn't draw our journeys very much - but there were some lovely pictures of things we'd seen on our travels and great conversations and laughter around the stories they provoked.

We looked at a map together and some of the group enjoyed pointing out where they had come from that day or, indeed, where they had grown up or gone to school. Steve observed how the transport-related pictures we took along really helped to start a discussion or reinforce a point. 

Printed pictures are tactile and colourful. Those of us that are leading more digital lives have many, many pictures locked away on laptops and mobile devices but printing them out means that we easily can pass them to each other and share stories around them.  We'll be thinking more about how we use these in the future ... or, indeed, how we tap into resources such as the historical society magazine we spotted last time or collections such as 'Lewis & Harris buses in days gone by'...

It was a pleasure to spend some time at the Solas Centre. As ever, having enjoyable conversations with people about their lives and their travelling experiences, now and in the past, can provide new insights, reinforce existing thoughts and spark ideas for us. 

As importantly, it feels like a meaningful and enjoyable activity for everyone involved.

Flying upstream

It's a relief to walk beyond the hustle and bustle of the shops and cafes, past the long queues to flights south and into the quiet zone that is gate twenty something at Edinburgh Airport. Particularly at 6a.m.

Steve and I were on the early flight to Stornaway for a day of Upstream meetings and a workshop.

It was a great start to the day - sunshine, fluffy clouds and then coffee and bacon rolls when we landed. 

Our first meeting of the day was with some of the Stornoway Airport team - the airport fire manager, cafe staff, a security officer, facilities management and an airline representative.

Paula describes our discussions nicely - we did a simple exercise of drawing something to describe our own journeys that morning. We heard about last minute changes to plans, driving instead of walking and the fact that there were no deer on the road! Paula talked about hailstorms on the west side of the island which then rattled at the windows about 5 minutes later. 

We explored travelling with dementia in general and together considered the challenges that the complexity of air travel might pose ... the rushing, the potential confusion of self-service check-in, security requirements... 

Flying can play a large part in the health and wellbeing of island life. Telehealth has a role to play, but people still need to visit clinics throughout the islands. We heard about people visiting from other islands to attend hospital appointments and older people flying, perhaps for the first time.  It all highlighted the many and varied, interconnected processes the lie behind air travel and the role that everyone can play in making it a dementia friendly experience. It also revealed how a caring attitude is already built into customer service. The team described how they look out for passengers that need assistance and work together to support them. 

It was a short introduction to thinking about dementia and air travel but it got us all wondering. A local group has worked closely with airport staff to help people with autism to prepare for a flight. A lot of thought had gone into improving the experience - from walking through the security process to trying out boarding the plane.

What can we learn from this? What sort of training might help to create something similar for people with dementia? 

North by North West

It's a bus shelter. No, seriously, it is.

It's called a Four Winds shelter and when you see it standing in a wind-swept spot, in the middle of the Isle of Lewis, you begin to see why. No matter what direction the wind blows from (and it can really blow) you'll find a sheltered spot somewhere in there.

Paula, who was taking me on this tour of the Island's more remote transport links, leads the Life Changes Trust Dementia Friendly Communities project at Stornoway's arts hub An Lanntair. Among many other things, they are using creative approaches and ' techniques for engaging with people living with dementia, their carers and the wider community'.  One of the related projects involves primary school children mapping and exploring their routes to school. Some visiting artists had recently travelled the island's bus routes and they are currently developing art installations for these very bus shelters...

We had already visited Staran, a community interest company that provides all kinds of services locally including gardening and transport. They have an impressive fleet of minibuses and adapted vehicles. One of the volunteer drivers Ken was just off to the local care home, so he offered me a lift and we chatted about how Staran transport was increasingly being used to take older and disabled people to medical appointments as well as errands around town and social outings too.

At Blar Buidhe care home, just on the outskirts of town, Ken met his passengers and Paula introduced me to Peter the care home manager. Peter has a wealth of experience in keeping the residents active and connected with Island life. We talked about mobility in older age and the challenges of simply getting in and out of vehicles. We heard that the home's minibus is a lifeline and in constant use - and yet, some aspects of adapted vehicles could be better. Those yellow strips showing the edges of steps might be a perceptual problem for some people with dementia. Perhaps a solid block of yellow might be better? Could minibus adaptation include design, creating a better environment to travel in? We weren't sure...    

I had a go on the wheelchair lift into the back of a bus ... those yellow stripes again.

The Alzheimer Scotland resource centre in town was the next stop - this is where a group gathers regularly to share information, have a cup of tea and generally tap into local support. We had some lovely conversations and noticed a taxi or two pulling up outside. We briefly chatted with one of the drivers  - yes, they regularly drop off here but no, not aware of guidance on the needs of people travelling with dementia. We need to point them to the SDWG film...   

And now we were heading north and west of Stornoway, stopping at bus stops and taking pictures...

Some of them are pretty remote and we were wondering - why no timetables? Not even a bus number in some cases. Somebody else had been wondering too...

Back at Lanntair we chatted these things through with David Smart, the local council's Transport Manager. Clearly it's a challenge, keeping information updated across a large, remote region. We learned that local minibuses provide short, circular services from remote locations, connecting people with more major island bus routes. Some of these are demand-responsive - you call and book them, so there is no timetable. 

David told us about the HI Trans Thistle Assistance card and the Ferry User-Group meetings. We talked about concessionary travel and wondered if a diagnosis of dementia leads to a travel concessionary card? The answer, it seems, is 'it's complicated'. Alzheimer Scotland has useful advice on driving and dementia which has guidance on free bus travel 'If you are 60 or over you will definitely qualify. If you are under 60, you might qualify – some local authorities include people with dementia and some don’t'.

There are clearly many aspects of Island travelling with dementia to explore. Many people and organisations play a role and we need to find ways of including them in our conversations. There's also a vast amount of local knowledge for us to tap into and maybe a different, more personal side to travelling that we might not find in other areas - drivers and passengers often know each other.  

So, head buzzing with thoughts and ideas we headed back to the airport and one last bus-stop.

Thanks to Paula for a day of though-provoking conversations and sights - it has got us thinking about the similarities and differences we might find as we explore travelling with dementia in different areas.