SITTING by the door of a day care centre, an elderly man is quietly waiting for a bus, desperate to go home. It is a fake bus stop: the bus will never come. But half-an-hour later he will have entirely forgotten about leaving and happily go instead for a cup of coffee.

The fake bus stop is just one of the unusual techniques used at Eva Burrows Day Care Centre in Cambuslang, South Lanarkshire, to assist older people with dementia: there is a room furnished to look like a typical 1940s home and a box with different "old-fashioned" smells to trigger the senses.

Tonight, the centre will feature on a BBC One documentary showing a visit by TV presenter Paul O’Grady, as part of a series exploring the work of The Salvation Army, which runs the service in partnership with South Lanarkshire Council. It also aims to confront one of the comedian's biggest fears – developing dementia.

However centre manager Sandra Sneddon hopes the programme will help break down some of the taboos surrounding the disease and highlight how people with dementia can still enjoy quality of life.

She said: “People are frightened of dementia, but I think a lot of that fear is based on the thought of – 'What if it happens to me?'

“People have to be educated that when you have a diagnosis, you start on a different phase of your life and you start on a journey.

“If you have the proper input along that journey and are assisted on that journey, life is not over. Life can be made just as fulfilling as it possibly can be, and that is what we need to do.”

She added: “It is a bit like mental health issues, which used to be very taboo but people are coming round now. This is a mental health issue as well – it is a disease that affects the brain.”

A typical image of a dementia sufferer might be a frail, elderly person in a care home doing little but staring at a TV screen.

However at the Eva Burrows centre, the focus is on trying to involve service users in activities ranging from knitting and gardening to bingo sessions and tea dances.

The service cares for around 20 people a day, most of whom have a diagnosis of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and are at varying stages of their illness.

Sneddon said a book which lists everything from food likes and dislikes to family history is compiled for each service user when they first arrive.

“Past history is very important, so that we can build a rapport,” she said. “People get frightened as they don’t know what has happened to them.

But if we can sit down and I ask, 'Where did you meet your husband', for example, I am speaking about something they can relate to – so all of a sudden there is a calmness and a feeling of worthiness as they can actually interact in that conversation.”

The centre has a room with a 1940s fireplace, sink, radio and tins of food, which the service users can relate to and use as talking points. Pictures of Glasgow in days gone by also hang on the wall and a smell box – which has distinctive odours from the past, including a dentist's surgery – is also brought out to help trigger memories.

But the staff use modern-day technology such as iPads, particularly to compile playlists for individuals depending on what music they like. Some of the service users have also been keen to try out the iPads for themselves.

However trying to find ways to engage someone often requires some unusual thinking.

Sneddon said there was one elderly man who used to come attend the centre who staff noticed had a curious habit of brushing at the carpet with his hand.

“In his care plan, there wasn’t a lot of information, so I phoned his sister and it emerged he was a carpet fitter in his day,” she said. “So what he was doing was still checking the carpets.

“I went into a carpet shop and got a pack of samples and then said to him, ‘I need your help – I’m looking for a carpet, what kind of quality should I get?’

“He was in his element telling me what carpet I needed and being able to help me.

“We had the same conversation every day he came in – but he wasn’t aware of that. It was something he knew about and it made him feel great.”

The centre also has runs a knitting bee group for service users, even though some have lost the ability to knit. Instead, they are given a tactile woollen "muffle", which is fitted with buttons, zips and Velcro, so they can sit with the group and "knit" along, using their hands.

“The aim is to involve everyone – no matter what stage they are at in their journey, they have got to feel valued and like they are taking part,” Sneddon added.

The programme will show O’Grady spending time with the service users, including Georgie McNeillie, 82, who was diagnosed with dementia around seven years ago.

McNeillie can no longer live independently and now stays with her son and daughter-in-law, but attends the centre five days a week. The staff say as someone who was previously very active, she still enjoys taking part in activities such as washing dishes.

Her granddaughter Claire Rennie, 31, said the centre has made a huge difference to the entire family’s quality of life.

“It especially helps my mum and dad," she said, "because they still work full-time, so the centre gives them a bit of peace of mind, knowing she is around people who know what they are doing.

“The centre gives my gran a wee book, of what she has done in the day, and I will come in and read through the book with her. It gives me something to talk about with her, when obviously for people with dementia it can be quite difficult to have a conversation with them."

Rennie said her grandmother recognises her as someone familiar, but no longer knows who she is. But she said she believes the fact she is still allowed to participate as much as possible in life is helping slow the progress of the disease.

She said: “I think some people think when someone has got dementia they can’t do anything, so instinct kicks in and they just do it all for them.

“My gran has had dementia for a long time, but she has not deteriorated as quickly as I have seen others deteriorate.

“I think it is because of the level of care she is getting and we are not doing everything for her.”

She added: “When I tell people my gran has dementia, they often ask how long she has been in a care home. They just think that it is someone at the end of their days – but it is not.

“There are still issues – the other day she tried putting a cushion cover on as she thought it was a jumper.

“But even in the house, my mum gives my gran a duster and she goes and does some housework.

"We are focusing on what she can do."