Paths for All supports a network of Walking for Health projects that organise free, short, local, volunteer led walks that are inclusive and welcoming. With funding from Life Changes Trust we have been working with the Walking for Health network to make our walks more accessible to people living with dementia.
Being physically active brings many health and wellbeing benefits for us all. Walking is a relatively simple way for people to meet the 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week that the government recommends. It’s free, requires no special equipment and is safe and low risk. A group walk can also be a place to meet new people and reduce the risk of social isolation and loneliness. It’s also an opportunity to get outdoors, and as one walker told us “I have a history of walking and I do not want to stop.”
And yet through the published research and our own consultation, we know there are still lots of barriers faced by people with dementia when accessing the outdoors and activities like our walking groups.
 Start Active Stay Active: A report on physical activity for health from the four home countries’ Chief Medical Officers 2011 http://www.paha.org.uk/Resource/start-active-stay-active-a-report-on-physical-activity-from-the-four-home-countries-chief-medical-officers
 Building Dementia Friendly Communities, The Alzheimer’s Society 2013 https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/download/downloads/id/1918/building_dementia_friendly_communities_a_priority_for_eveyone_-_executive_summary.pdf Is it Nice Outside? Natural England, 2016 http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/5910641209507840
That’s why we have created a Dementia Friendly Walking accreditation for our walking projects. This framework was developed with input from people with dementia, carers and other stakeholders and creates a benchmark to measure change and success. Paths for All has supported this process with small grants, Dementia Friendly Walk Leader training, development officer time, resources and networking opportunities.
With 23 projects working towards the Dementia Friendly Walking accreditation, over 350 dementia friendly walk leaders trained and more than 130 dementia friendly health walks across Scotland we are beginning to see positive changes and outcomes.
We asked a team of researchers from the University of Stirling to look at what people valued about their walking group and the following themes emerged:
- Being with other people Walking groups give people with dementia opportunities to socialise with other people, in a safe and comfortable environment.
- Being outdoors Walking groups give people the opportunity to access the outdoors and a safe and secure environment.
- Ethos and atmosphere Attending walking groups enabled people with dementia to demonstrate what they could still do, rather than the problems they faced due to their condition.
- Feeling secure Walks improved people’s confidence as they were able to participate, but also knew that help would be available if required.
- Leadership and organisation The role of walk leaders was essential to the running of groups, organising and facilitating walks and supporting walkers.
But what matters most is the individual experiences of the walkers themselves and the connections they make on the walks. By getting out in their community they are proving that it is possible to live well with dementia and enjoy a full and active life. This is illustrated perfectly by Janet a volunteer and walker with a group in Ayrshire:
“The group is very relaxed and you can talk about anything with others offering support and information when required I have always found the group to be very supportive especially now as I have recently been diagnosed with early onset dementia.
“I don’t have any concerns walking with the group as they are just like family and I know the group will continue to make the walks fun enjoyable and safe even if my condition worsens. I am confident that the walking group would inform me if specific walks were not suitable for me to attend and alternative walks would be advised.
“I really enjoy everyone’s company, all the different topics of conversation that you get involved in during the walk and sometimes we even hear a few good jokes on the way. I prefer when we are walking in the countryside where it’s nice and quiet, you feel really close to nature looking at all the animals, plants, trees and scenery, what more could you ask for.”
You can search for your local dementia friendly walk using the Google Map below or you can get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01259 230 152. There is also more information on our website.
Carl is a Senior Development Officer with Paths for All. He leads on the Dementia Friendly Walking project