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Accessible web design for people living with dementia or have problems with their memory

Written by Cheryl Swan on

With the internet being an indispensable resource, many people turn to online tools, resources and support when they are concerned about their memory or to seek advice with their diagnosis. This, along with continuing to use everyday services that they are familiar with. So, it is crucial that digital platforms are simplistic to navigate and easy to understand.

This blog looks into ways that you can adapt your websites to be more inclusive for not only people with dementia, but to improve the user experience for your entire online audience. 

Understanding user needs for people with dementia

Currently, across the world there are more than 55 million people living with dementia. Dementia is a progressive condition and user needs are very diverse, but common issues can include:

  • Memory loss.
  • Confusion.
  • Difficulty with concentration and decision making.
  • A lack of perception and vision.
  • Issues with processing and thinking speed. 
  • Problems with language and words.
  • Finding undertaking a sequence of actions or problem-solving a challenge.

All of which can impact someone’s ability to use digital products. The following adjustments you can make to your online content can help to change that. 

Remove page timeouts to allow for processing time

When pages have time limits on them it can induce anxiety for many users. For users with dementia, it can prevent them from being able to search, navigate or complete online actions entirely.

So, it’s best to remove page timeouts or at least extend them to give users more time to finish tasks and consume information.

Make navigating your website a breeze for users

Busy websites can be overwhelming to navigate. Some people with dementia can get disorientated, so it’s important to present clear and direct signposting. This will aid with your user-journey for everyone. 

an old man stood surrounded by autumnal trees is showing his son and grandson a website on his tablet

To do so:

  • Present logical and descriptive headings and subheadings.
  • Strengthen your taxonomy with the use of striking call-to-action boxes to guide the user through your platform. 
  • Write descriptive link text. Don’t put ‘click here’, say where the person will be directed. 
  • Use summary boxes at the top of web pages to let people know what information can be found within that section. 
  • Use breadcrumbs to assist people in returning to previously visited information.
  • Keep web pages in a consistent format to build familiarity.  

Provide clear and detailed instructions

Some users may need extra assistance when completing online actions, such as filling in an online form. Alternatively, they may need to know what to do if the information they have submitted is not correct. 

  • When labelling forms, be clear and accurate about the details and format you require from them. For example, with the date (dd/mm/yyyy).
  • Let people know where they are in completing a process, such as step 2 of 4; especially if this spans across multiple web pages. 
  • If it’s a site with a login, allow any form answers to be saved as users go through the process, enabling them to return and complete further information if required. 
  • If items have been incorrectly completed, detail why this is the case and give examples of a correct answer. 

Remove any distractions and autoplay features from digital platforms 

Pop-up adverts or features that autoplay on a page can cause panic and be tiring for users, along with being dangerous for people who are photosensitive.

If you want to avoid giving sensory overload or triggering certain online visitors, disable these features and give control back to your users. 

Think about how you structure and write content to aid with accessibility

Use clear and consistent web page designs. By breaking up your content into bite-sized sections, rather than presenting a large wall of text, will make your page more scannable and easier to understand. 

  • Keep your paragraph and sentence lengths short. 
  • Use bulleted lists. 
  • Implement structured heading levels. 
  • Use various media such as imagery, videos and charts, to display information in different ways for users to consume.   
  • Keep a consistent format throughout the platform.
  • Sketching out a web page plan can help.
a series of sketched wireframe drawings laid out across a table, planning the structure of web pages.

As people with dementia may struggle with language and wording, it’s important to try and write user-friendly content by:

  • Avoiding using slang or jargon.
  • Writing acronyms out in full.
  • Using plain English and simple language.
  • Not using difficult or long words.
  • Avoiding the use of abstract concepts, such as ‘thinking outside the box’. 
  • Writing in an active voice, rather than in a passive voice.

Implement user-friendly typography

The decisions you make when it comes to items such as font choice, makes a big difference to people who have dementia. Choosing sans-serif fonts can make the shape of letters and words simple to perceive, enhancing readability for your users. 

There is a lot more than just the font type to consider though, such as:

  • Text alignment
  • Font size and spacing
  • Colour contrasts
  • Consistency 
  • Even avoiding the use of formats like italics and block capitals. 
a document coming out of a laptop screen. Next to this are figures assessing the content with magnifying glasses and pencils, with someone awarding the site 5 stars. Above this are accessibility, spacing, contrast, and font type icons hovering

Need help with building an inclusive platform or implementing accessible content?

Our team are highly-skilled and passionate advocates when it comes to digital accessibility. 

We offer a range of services where we can step in and make the required changes for you, or provide training to share our valuable knowledge, so your team can confidently implement inclusive lasting change.