Ensuring a smooth journey: Improving the accessibility of airports for travellers with dementia

Project Researchers Dr. Maria O'Reilly, Prof. Elizabeth Beattie, Sandra Jeavons

Year: July 1, 2016

Partners Queensland University of Technology (QUT)

Program Overview:

A diagnosis of dementia should not mean an end to all life activities. Many people look forward to travelling as they grow older, either for leisure or to visit family and friends; this includes people living with dementia. However, little attention has been paid to this passenger group to date, and while improvements have been made to transport infrastructure for people with mobility impairments, little has been done to improve accessibility for those with cognitive impairments such as dementia.
A good airport experience can enable people with dementia to enjoy travel just as much as other people in the community. The project outlined in this proposal seeks to improve the self-determination and independence of people with dementia by helping to make air travel more accessible and dementia friendly.

The research team has worked on two prior projects investigating the needs of people with dementia when travelling by air. The first one (“Infrequent Flyers?”) was an exploratory study that investigated the topic from the perspective of people with dementia, their companions, airport staff, and air crew. Through this we found that the most challenging part of air travel for people with dementia was managing at the airport.

The second project is currently underway and is an airport audit using an established environmental assessment instrument (the Dementia Friendly Communities Environmental Assessment Tool) to determine the “dementia friendliness” of Brisbane Domestic and International Airports. This will be completed by July 2016 and will complement the results of the Infrequent Flyers project. Thus the primary aim of the project outlined in this proposal is to translate knowledge gained from these two earlier studies into practical improvements to the accessibility of airports for people with dementia.

In achieving this aim, the proposed project will develop educational materials for use by airport staff and by travellers. For staff, we propose to work with those who have direct customer contact to improve their understanding of the needs of people with dementia when they travel. The educational resources will be evaluated by participants in the training, who will also be followed up after three months to evaluate whether the materials helped them assist passengers with dementia.

For travellers with dementia and their companions we will develop a user guide to assist navigating through the different zones of Brisbane Domestic and International Airports. For example, it would outline what to expect in the bag screening area or when passing through Customs. The airport guide will be evaluated by people living with dementia and/or their companions to ensure its usability. Once the two sets of resources have been developed, evaluated and refined, they will be publically launched and made widely available.

Making transport infrastructure accessible is an important part of increasing the self-determination and independence of people living with dementia. The project outlined in this proposal enhances knowledge translation by using the findings of previous research and collaborative relationships established between the project team and key staff at Brisbane Airport Corporation.

The development of a user guide to Brisbane Domestic and International Airports for travellers with dementia will give them a practical tool to reduce anxiety about the travel experience, while the staff educational resources will facilitate customer service more aligned to the needs of people with dementia. We envisage the resources we develop could be adapted for use in other airports, and in other formats, such as the development of a mobile application (“app”). By using a collaborative problem solving approach between researchers and decision makers, this project has the potential to improve the accessibility of airports for people with dementia throughout Australia and potentially around the world, thus ensuring smooth journeys wherever they wish to travel.

Successful DCRC grant recipient 2016

Other team members:
Prof Helen Edwards, Queensland University of Technology
Prof Jill Franz, Queensland University of Technology
Ms Nicole Shepherd, Queensland University of Technology
Prof Lindy Willmott