How do I…

Make my practice dementia friendly

Raj Gill, co-owner of Specsavers Keighley, on how he rolled out dementia awareness training for staff across his two practices

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Getty/Elena Volf

Dementia training has been part of a longer-term project that's been going for some time in our store. We've got staff that have relatives or parents, or people that are close to them, that have dementia, and it was from hearing these stories that the importance of implementing training was emphasised.

We're a reasonably large business across the two stores, but I would like to think that we have a quite intimate relationship with our team. You get to hear these personal stories, and get a real feel for what it's like to have someone that you're caring for have dementia and the impact that has – but also what it might be like for the individual themselves.

Using resources at hand

As with all practices within the group, our staff were able to utilise the dementia-friendly online training from Specsavers, which comes in the form of online modules. The training was developed from existing awareness raising information created by the Alzheimer's Society. Specsavers stores can find the training by searching ‘dementia’ on ilearn. Everyone who completes the training receives a ‘dementia friend’ badge, which is approved by the Alzheimer’s Society.

Raj Gill
Raj Gill

For those not with Specsavers, the Alzheimer's Society has updated its training to allow it to continue through the COVID-19 pandemic. The Alzheimer’s Society Learning Hub will offer courses in areas including supporting customers with dementia and creating dementia-friendly environments; courses can be bought separately or in bulk. Dementia awareness training that was previously carried out face to face is also now available virtually for groups of up to 15.

As a compliment to the existing training, I would recommend using all resources that your circumstances allow. For example, we are in a shopping centre, which has a care unit that allows carers to be able to do some quick shopping. We had staff from the unit come and brief one of our team huddles as part of the training.

Dementia-friendly training is something that we now do as part of the induction process for new members joining the team


In terms of speakers, once the COVID-19 restrictions allow you could also invite members of the team and/or customers with personal experiences to speak. People quite quickly switch off if you're just throwing facts at them; stories tend to mean so much more. Stories help us understand and appreciate what somebody might be going through on a daily basis. They give context and meaning, and I think that's important.

It's about being able to take the time to listen to somebody – it suddenly opens your eyes; it's a different world.

Deployment of training

We found it effective to plan blended training. As the majority of the training took place before we got locked down, we had people coming into the store to share their stories. There were also some sessions delivered by our in-store trainer, taken from the online content. The rest was through the Specsavers online modules, which we directed staff to.

Between the two stores we've probably got just over 100 staff. It took four weeks to get through the online modules. But it doesn't end there – it's something that's constantly reviewed as we come through different and newer patient experiences. We learn as much from getting it wrong as we do from getting it right first time.


In terms of financing, the online modules are free via Specsavers and the individuals that we had in to speak all volunteered.

Prices on the Alzheimer’s Society Learning Hub start at £19 per module, and there are different lengths of training available to suit all needs. Modules can be as short as one hour, while virtual delivery courses are three of six hours. ‘Train the trainer’ sessions, allowing staff to train others, take up to two days. Practice owners will know whether or not this is a cost and time commitment that they can undertake.

As we've become more inclusive, we are able to see people from broader backgrounds. We see more patients, and our team are better equipped to see those patients, which ultimately will pay for itself.

Making sure the training sticks

If you don’t already, it’s helpful to have an end of day huddle with the whole team, where you go through what's worked well from that day and what hasn't, and see what gaps there are. We're always going to come across new situations that we haven't experienced before: a new type of customer, a new type of patient. Some of the team might be quite young and not have the life experience to deal with some of these patients. It’s helpful to highlight those gaps.

It’s important to try and get every member of staff accredited. As the customer comes through their journey within the practice, they're going to come into contact with lots of different people. Everyone needs to be in a position where they can help.

From a business perspective, if you open your doors to a wider audience, that's surely a winner


It’s likely to be an ongoing process. The best thing to do is create an environment where you’re dialling up the curiosity and dialling down the judgement of people that can do a better job. Dementia-friendly training is something that we now do as part of the induction process for new members joining the team.

Unconscious bias is something we all need to be aware of. And so, the behaviours instilled during training have to become a habit. Everybody likes the idea of being inclusive, but I don't think everyone understands what that means. It's a constant challenge. You have members of the team that move on and you'll have new members that join, and they also need to go through the training.

Wider applications

Trying to balance staff mental health with how the customers are feeling at this time is a challenge. Staff are likely to be having their own issues, maybe with childcare being up in the air. At the same time, customers are unlikely to be feeling particularly confident coming into practice. It can be helpful to treat those individuals carefully, and I think this is where the training can further come into its element. You’ll have a team that are in a good position to be able to deal with these customers and their new anxieties and concerns.