My mum’s a keen shopper. Often, when she feels down, she suggests we have a little retail therapy. This Saturday the weather was so appalling that we drove to the local mall. Unlike the flashy chain store versions, this small suburban center has an op shop. That’s what we New Zealanders call thrift stores or charity resale shops. Op shops happen to be Mum’s favorite.

When she first moved to the rest home, Mum would walk down to the town and go to every op shop on the street. These days, she can't always get there herself, but whenever I take her she loves it.

Op shops typically take things slowly. The staff are often elderly or volunteers, so they are less inclined to rush and most seem to have a natural affinity with their peers.

But even in op shops, things can be hard for people with dementia. Shopping can be physically and mentally tiring even for younger generations.

The best shops have a chair for customers who need a rest.

Handling money can be stressful as well. When I’m with Mum, she is visibly relieved to delegate the EFTPOS (credit/debit card) process to me.

When shopping alone, Mum really struggles. One local shop recognized the problem and generously provided her with a couple of dollars in credit, allowing me to settle up when I went in later.

Dementia also affects decision-making capabilities. Sometimes, when Mum’s going round and round the various options, I can feel the impatience of the retail staff. So can Mum. The problem is, Mum presents so well. The staff think she is just an annoying person who won’t make up her mind.

The other day, on the regional Alzheimers Wellington website, I came across a fantastic resource. It is called “Understanding and Respecting Customers with a Dementia: A guide for staff.”


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Full of useful information, it explains that people with dementia don’t always fit the stereotype and that many people who are developing dementia, or have it already, are still able to do lots of things the rest of us do. Like shopping, for example. Just because someone has Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia doesn’t mean that they must give up the pastimes, hobbies and activities that they have enjoyed throughout their life.

This guide teaches readers how to spot someone who may be struggling and how to help them. It also acknowledges the importance of having a chair in retail stores, suggesting that when customers get tired or confused, staff might offer a quieter or less distracting spot for them to rest.

Best of all, this guide helped me to better understand what works and what doesn't when Mum and I are out getting our retail fix. I think it is an important staff training resource for retailers and business owners.

While the language of the guide I found is unique to New Zealand and may sound a bit foreign to Americans, the underlying principles of making a making a business dementia-friendly and interacting with customers who have this condition tend to be fundamentally the same.

Feel free to share this with businesses that you frequent and those that may need increased dementia awareness and training.