There was an incident last Saturday with my Dad and some passengers on a local bus. I don’t know exactly what happened, but the result was that my Dad was asked to get off the bus. He walked home, up a steep hill, for about a mile, with heavy shopping bags (which he is not well enough to do). Understandably, he was upset about what happened and had it in his mind that he would not be permitted to travel on the buses ever again.
I am certain that there would have been an interchange of words of some kind that had prompted the bus driver to take issue with my Dad, but the action she took was harsh, and the consequences could have been catastrophic. As it is, my Dad feels humiliated and dispirited, and his confidence has taken a knock. Physically he is still in one piece.
I called the bus company on Monday morning and spoke to the station supervisor. I explained that I wasn’t wanting to make a complaint, but that I wanted to try to understand what had happened and make the bus drivers aware of my father’s health issues and challenges; and, most importantly, I wanted to pave the way for my Dad to be able to continue travelling by bus to various destinations – the supermarket, local shops and the health centre – without fearing that he would be refused access to this vital means of independence, on which he totally relies.
The station supervisor was understanding and apologetic. He had had a report of the incident from the bus driver, but he hadn’t understood the full implications of what had happened. Hearing about the circumstances from my Dad’s perspective (related by me) and the health issues that he is dealing with – and finding out his age (he is 88 but looks considerably younger) – provided a more complete picture. “We very much want to keep people like your father travelling on the buses” he said. “It’s important for older people to stay active and independent and if we can help with this, with the services we provide, we would wish to”. “That’s exactly right.” I said. “The buses are a lifeline to my parents. My Mum relies on my Dad to do the shopping, she is not physically well and couldn’t manage it all herself; and the buses are crucial for my Dad’s independence and autonomy. He goes out on the bus every day”.
I am hoping everything will be alright going forwards. “Please reassure your father that we will take him on his local bus route and he will not be refused boarding again”, said the station supervisor. “It’s really helpful to know a little bit more about him”. I mentioned some key topics that engage my Dad, a few suggested greetings that would make him feel that people have a genuine interest in him and that he is welcome on the bus.
The emotional impact has been significant, for me, my mother, and particularly for my Dad. His resultant agitation and preoccupation with the incident cannot be having a good effect on his developing dementia. We have tried to reassure him, but I think it will take a while for the feelings he has been left with to pass.
It’s made me think a lot about the importance of dialogue with public services. The growth of dementia friendly spaces and places has advanced the mission of the dementia care sector to improve the lives of people affected by dementia and to promote inclusion. The ‘Dementia Friends’ movement is widespread and continuing to expand, and dementia awareness training is readily available. To build on these strong foundations, there is a continuing need to reinforce the messages at local level and to ensure that particular situations are addressed with compassion and understanding.
I do know of a very good example of compassionate action: a large supermarket store in London, which is the local supermarket for some friends of mine, warrants a mention. Christine has young onset Alzheimer’s and her husband Simon is her full-time carer. They have become well known in this particular supermarket as they shop there often. The customer service is always good, but especially so when sales assistant Marcia is on shift. Marcia always treats them with special attention, taking Christine on a walk around the store, and to the toilet if she needs it, whilst Simon does his shopping. Marcia makes Christine feel very special, telling her that that they are ‘VIP customers’. Christine doesn’t always recognise Marcia, and doesn’t know her name, but she always responds positively to Marcia’s empathic approach and kindness. A simple action which makes a huge difference to Simon, who can complete his shopping tasks without worry.
Do you have a story to tell about compassionate customer service? Is there a person you would like to recognise for their ability to respond positively to people with dementia in a public place? Please do get in touch and let us know your experiences. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at the Unforgettable office.