Dementia Awareness within Prisons

Dementia Awareness within Prisons

In this week’s Q & A, Lorna, Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Advisors, share with us her partnership work to support a dementia aware prison.

How was the initiative started & who was involved?

HMP Shotts, Scotlands maximum security prison has recently teamed up with Alzheimer’s Scotland to create a dementia awareness raising partnership for both prison staff, third sector partners and prisoners alike and the wider community. This partnership was struck when Gillian Dick (NHS nurse & Alzheimer Scotland volunteer) discussed her dementia work with Scott Cringles Unit Manager with a remit for Equality and Diversity at the prison. The prison demographic is changing to include older prisoners with longer sentences who need increased health and social care needs.

We set a meeting and looked around the facility which with the colouring of doors within the work sheds and prison routine actually appeared to be dementia friendly (Contrasting doors/ signage and routine).  There were a few recommendations suggested in particular areas of interest were the Halls where the men live – a corridor to which all doors look the same so anyone struggling with their memory may find difficulty locating their room.

What were the benefits of the partnership ?

The next part was to roll out dementia friend’s awareness sessions. This was started with the senior management team including the Governor of the prison who was fully supportive in partnership working.

To date we have held these awareness sessions in different locations around the prison. We have also rolled out the sessions to serving prisoners and the positive feedback received has been fantastic. Participants have been open and honest with the team, and are actually looking to raise funds for Alzheimer Scotland through different charitable events.

Dementia Friends/ Awareness sessions April 2016 – March 2017

Staff Engagement 54
Prisoner Engagement 192
Family/ Visitors Engagement 70


One prisoner asked

My gran has dementia, when I phone her she forgets where I am, when I tell her she gets so upset.  She doesn’t see me as this bad boy she sees me as a 14year old who hasn’t came home from school – how do I remind her without upsetting her?’

The Alzheimer Scotland team has also attended visit sessions targeting those coming in to see friends or family working with them in our purpose built visit waiting room. The Memory Bus also visited the prison to raise awareness both staff and prison visitors had the opportunity to come in, talk to the team and receive advice on caring for those with dementia.   We had feedback on our bus visiting from a member of staff who said ‘I couldn’t ask you on shift …… but I knew my wife needed help’.

Media coverage has been phenomenal!  Prisoners have added a user voice to the publicity material we will use at the Alzheimer Scotland Conference and we see this new initiative as exciting, rewarding and unique to HMP Shotts. The partnership was recently highlighted   the Dementia Scotland magazine, the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) national staff magazine, the SPS third sector magazine, twitter, and SPS Facebook page.

Also through the partnership, a local sheltered housing complex benefited from the amazing garden furniture made within the prison.  This was used to decorate their newly decked area, they ordered benches, planters and raised beds to ensure the residents took control and responsibility for the garden.

We have also been fortunate enough to be invited to meet Princess Anne through her Royal Visit to the prison as she is the trustee of the Butler Foundation which focuses on the good work and practice within prisons.

What have been the challenges & opportunities in this work?

Some prisoners through conversations with us have come up with some suggestions on how to be aware of dementia when in a prison setting including :

  • The Alzheimer Scotland 24/7 helpline to be included in their phone list
  • Regular information sessions
  • Increase awareness with community mental health team
  • Using the Listener programme – provided by the Samaritans
  • Drop in clinics

The prisoners have identified a few men who often forget and need assistance getting ready in the morning. The prisoners now have the correct information to help and as a result the staff are also now aware. One of the men feedback to us ‘I meet **** down the hall every day and he forgets my name, he seems quiet and lost but now I can introduce myself so he knows my name and encourage him to do activity’

On reflection ……

  • In your area of work have you engaged with prisons to support them to be dementia aware?
  • What do you think the benefits are with increasing dementia awareness?
  • We welcome any comments about our work as we hope to roll this out across Scotland

For more information about Dementia Friends, Alzheimer Scotland please link here.

Anybody can become a Scottish Dementia Friend. It’s just about understanding a bit more about dementia and the small things you can do to help people with the condition. This could be helping someone find the right bus or being patient in a till queue if someone with dementia is taking longer to pay. Every action counts.


Lorna Hart-Thomson

Twitter – @hart_lorna



2 thoughts on “Dementia Awareness within Prisons

  1. Pingback: The Third Global Health Challenge – Raymond's Older Peoples' Blog

  2. Pingback: Your Top 10 blogs of 2017 | Let's Talk about Dementia

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