A CHARITY worker has said she hopes the new ‘dementia-friendly’ outpatients department at Darlington Memorial Hospital will prove to be a catalyst in raising awareness of the illness.

Jenny Leeming, a dementia support worker from the Alzheimer’s Society, was speaking at a ceremony to mark the official opening of the hospital’s refurbished outpatients department by the Lord Lieutenant of County Durham, Sue Snowdon.

Mrs Leeming said: “I hope this proves to be the catalyst to launch more dementia-friendly communities across this trust and Darlington as a whole.”

Earlier Mrs Snowdon praised the dramatic changes which has seen the area completely remodelled into a dementia-friendly environment with help from the Alzheimer’s Society as well as local patients and carers.

Because people with dementia tend to look down or straight ahead signage has been moved to eye level.

Dementia-friendly colour schemes have also been incorporated throughout the unit to help users distinguish between the different areas.

The medical outpatients department has a woodland theme, decorated in browns and greens and featuring images of trees and leaves, while the dental area has a blue colour scheme and a seascape imagery.

The once gloomy department has also been illuminated by new skylights, letting in lots of natural light.

The transformation was paid for out of the £1m given to the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust by the Government as part of a wider £3.9m allocated in the North-East to make environments more accessible for those living with dementia.

Alex Menarry, 81, from Darlington, who helped in advising the hospital on the changes a year ago, along with his wife, Nita, 81, who has Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, said: “My wife and I came a year ago. We saw a place that was dark and forbidding. The transformation today is absolutely wonderful.”