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Our Aging Customers: Are You … and Your Staff … Prepared?

senior customer

This week’s post is from Rosanne Burke, a dementia care consultant, trainer and speaker. She offers dementia training workshops for business owners who want to learn how to make their business dementia-friendly and helps family caregivers feel more confident and competent by creating a personalized caregiving plan.

In Canada, seniors now outnumber children. The incidence of dementia is on the rise because increasing age is the greatest risk factor. According to 2018 statistics from the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, there are over half a million Canadians living with dementia – plus about 25,000 new cases diagnosed every year. By 2031, that number is expected to rise to 937,000, an increase of 66%.

What does this mean if you’re a business owner? How can you and your staff create a communications plan?

Knowing what is normal and what isn’t when it comes to aging is one of the first steps in adapting how you structure your business around individuals with dementia. Awareness of these ten warning signs allows business owners – and their staff – to create the best possible customer service strategy.

A person may have dementia if: 

  1. You notice they have memory loss that affects day-to-day abilities (e.g. ordering from a menu);
  2. The person has difficulty performing a familiar task (e.g. making a phone call);
  3. They have problems with language and struggle to communicate;
  4. They’re confused about a situation, where they are or what day it is;
  5. Their judgment seems impaired and they’re not making good decisions for themselves;
  6. They have problems with abstract thinking (e.g. managing finances and money);
  7. They’re always losing things, or you see them putting items in strange places;
  8. There’s a change in their mood and behaviour;
  9. There’s a change in personality, and they seem suspicious or fearful; and/or
  10. You notice they have a loss of initiative and interest in friends, family and activities.

Business owners need to consider how they can adapt their communication and customer service processes. Here are some actions you can start discussing immediately.

Be patient. People with dementia may need more time to decide or complete a transaction.

Keep your communication simple. Speak in shorter sentences and don’t give too much information at once. 

Smile and be friendly. People with dementia may have difficulty comprehending words but can still understand body language. They’ll know if you’re frustrated with them.

Don’t argue. A person with dementia may blame you for something you didn’t do. Don’t correct or try to convince them otherwise. 

Talk to the person’s family if you see warning signs. Family members don’t always notice changes as quickly as someone who sees the person less frequently. For example, a pharmacist may see a difference in Mr. Smith on his monthly visits to pick up prescriptions.

Ask for feedback from your clients with dementia, or their family members. They may have simple suggestions for what you can do to improve.

Does your community, province or state have a Seniors Safety Program? Here’s information on what’s available in Nova Scotia and how it helps businesses and seniors communicate: https://thephonelady.com/theres-a-customer-service-crisis-headed-your-way/

Now is the time to increase your awareness and knowledge of dementia and how it will impact your company. The risk of ignoring this growing segment of the population not only includes a loss of revenue but also increased frustration for your front line staff, angry family members and, possibly, even lawsuits.

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