Swirly carpets are as much a feature of British cinemas as hot dogs and popcorn.
But they are being covered up as part of a growing trend: dementia-friendly film screenings.
Dedicated viewings for dementia sufferers and their carers were one of the fastest-growing trends of 2017, according to the UK Cinema Association, following the popularity of baby-friendly cinema.
What began as a pilot scheme two years ago has now spread to around 400 cinemas across the country, with more signing up each week.
The films are tailored to the audience, with musicals especially popular. But there are also adjustments to the cinemas themselves, in order to make the environment as comfortable as possible for those suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
Garish carpets are covered, as are mirrors, as both can be distressing for dementia sufferers. The volume is turned down and the lighting turned up, and cups of tea are on offer.
“We have seen cinema take on a broader role over the last decade, with parent and baby screenings, silver screenings for older customers, and autism-friendly screenings. And now we have dementia-friendly screenings,” said Phil Clapp, the association’s chief executive.
The Alzheimer’s Society has produced a new guide advising cinemas on how to adapt.
Emma Bould, the society’s project manager, said: “For people with dementia, patterns on carpets can be quite disorientating. A black mat on the floor can also look like a hole to someone with dementia, as the condition can bring visual and spatial difficulties.
“We advise cinemas to cover up the carpet where possible, and to cover up mirrors as they can be disturbing.
“Leave the lighting on low, so it’s easy for people to get around. But the big misconception is that we need to turn the volume up for older people with dementia. Actually, we suggest you turn the volume down, as a big crescendo can be startling.”
The society recommends classics including Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Singin’ in the Rain and Calamity Jane as appropriate films. The recent remake of Dad’s Army also proved popular, as did the modern-day musical La La Land.
“Typically, classic movies can stimulate memories, and music is a powerful tool in reminiscence,” said Bould. Yet other films have proved surprisingly popular. One group in Canterbury, Kent, found the highest level of satisfaction was for Mao’s Last Dancer, with dialogue in English and subtitled Mandarin. “It has quite a complex story, but the audience found it very stimulating,” Bould said.
Small, independent cinemas were first to experiment with the screenings, but the idea has has now been taken up by the Picturehouse chain and by individual branches of Vue, Cineworld and Odeon.
Most audience members are accompanied by their children or partner, but the society wants to encourage grandchildren to come along too, suggesting family films such as The Jungle Book as appropriate choices.
Last year was a UK and Ireland box office record, with takings of £1.37 million. Star Wars: The Last Jedi was the most popular film, followed by the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast.