Dementia Enabled National Symbols – StudioLR

National project
Award: £17,500
Timescale: 2016 -

Project aims

To consult with people affected with dementia, academics and stakeholders in order to:

  • assess the strengths and weaknesses of commonly used universal symbols
  • identify domains where symbols are a priority for people with dementia 
  • explore and identify any ‘missing’ symbols that would be helpful for people with dementia and the wider community


A very common complaint from people living with dementia is that symbols and signage are confusing and not clear. This can lead to disorientating, embarrassing or dangerous situations.

Some work has been done on ‘dementia signage’ - particularly by the Dementia Services Development Centre based at the University of Stirling - but not symbols as such. There are also numerous organisations that sell signage for care homes and hospitals but these tend to focus on the home (typically door signs) or creating a false environment, e.g. large vinyl pictures of windows or doors or bus stops that are stuck to the wall and give an illusion of being outdoors or in a particular environment.

People with dementia sometimes complain that these signs are childish (‘like being in a nursery where you have a coat hook with your name on it’) and that they focus on keeping a person safe indoors. They point out that their real challenges are when they are outdoors - at a train station, airport, restaurant or in a shop.

More Information

At the heart of this project is not a set of symbols specifically for people living with dementia, but consultation with people with dementia to making existing symbols clearer for them. It will involve suggesting updates to existing symbols or designing and testing new symbols where gaps are identified.

Six discussion groups were held across Scotland with people living with dementia. Researchers presented a variety of symbols across different subject areas. These symbols were shown without text and within and also out of context.

The results clearly demonstrated that there is scope to improve symbol design for those living with dementia.

A draft report was widely distributed for comment and a final report published in March 2017.

The next step was to further discuss the results, conclusions and recommendations with those living with dementia to get feedback, explore validity of the findings and input into the design of the next research phase.

Key questions focussed upon immediate areas of priority, factors enhancing symbol communication, use of text, and what other disabilities could/should be represented in symbols.

StudioLR was awarded a further £99,600 in November 2017, to further test 15 inclusive symbols. These will be tested by Innovations in Dementia, working with specific DEEP groups. StudioLR will also liaise with the British Standards Institution (BSI), to consider adopting these symbols as standard British symbols. Evaluation for this project will undertake by the University of Edinburgh.

There will be three phases of testing for these symbols, with people living with dementia giving there feedback on the different designs. This work has follows on from StudioLR’s initial feasibility study on inclusive symbols, which was also funded by the Life Changes Trust.  The project was due to finish in July 2018, but has been extended until March 2019, in order to gain deeper analysis of the testing.

Some of these symbols have been used in Kings Park, Stirling, as part of Paths for All’s project in making the park dementia friendly.

Any Disability Symbol

On the 4th of June 2019, a roundtable discussion was held at Westminster regarding one of the newly developed symbols for toilets that are accessible to people with any disability, including invisible disabilities such as dementia. The development of the new sign was inspired by the success of the Grace Warnock's Sign campaign. Grace is a pupil at Preston Lodge High School in Prestonpans. Grace, who has Crohn’s Disease, designed her sign following her own experience of using accessible toilets, including receiving negative remarks from adults who did not appreciate or understand her disability. 

Building on this campaign, StudioLR (funded by Life Changes Trust) designed a new ‘Any Disability’ symbol to encourage awareness of people with invisible disabilities.

The Westminster roundtable was hosted by Martin Whitfield MP (East Lothian) and five further MPs were part of the discussion. The following day, there was a Parliamentary debate: ‘This House has considered invisible disabilities and accessibility challenges’. This debate mentioned the work of StudioLR who developed the symbol alongside people with dementia in Scotland, and the Trust. The aim is to see the symbol adopted across the UK.

The new symbols look like this:

StudioLR any disability symbol, copyright StudioLR 2019

Receiving full cross-party support, the new Any Disability symbol represents the full range of people who need to use accessible toilets and other facilities. The symbol has received public shows of support from people who have experienced prejudice - this demonstrates how design can help change people's everyday lives.

Read more about the project and debate here.

Outcomes we'd like to see

  • the British Standards Institute (BSI) consider that they might adopt the symbols when they next update the BS8501 set
  • the Scottish Government adopts the symbol set and promote it as part of a ‘Dementia Friendly Scotland’ initiative
  • once designed, the symbols would be free of charge for anyone to use. There is, however, the opportunity for Scotland to lead the way in a new worldwide symbol set

Additional Information

Read more about this project here