Scotland welcomes its first dementia-friendly woodland

Paths For All at Evanton Community Woods. Kayleigh Lytham (Dementia Friendly Walking Development Officer) presents to Simon Harry (Education officer, Evanton Woods) and Douglas Wilson (Chair, Evanton Woods)

Evanton Community Woodland in the Highlands has become Scotland’s first dementia-friendly woodland.

Thanks to £6k in funding from the Life Changes Trust, Scotland’s walking charity, Paths for All, has helped the woodland become more accessible for people living with dementia.

The area around the woodland cabin has been resurfaced to make it easier to walk around and new dementia-friendly signage has been installed on the compost toilet and outdoor sink.

The cabin

Other changes include areas around benches being made wheelchair accessible to encourage conversations and activities as well as new a woodland sign and staff and volunteer uniforms to make them easily recognisable as the person to approach to ask for help.

It’s estimated Scotland has around 90,000 people living with a dementia diagnosis who could benefit from more everyday walking opportunities.

Paths for All identified several ways in which Evanton Community Woodland could be made more accessible for everyone by holding discussions with people living with dementia, carers, local health walking group Step It Up Highland and local community consultations.

Ian Findlay, Paths for All’s Chief Officer, said: “Improving outdoor spaces for people living with dementia is important to ensure they can get outside to benefit from sunlight, fresh air and sensory stimulation.

“If outdoor spaces are well designed for someone living with dementia, they are well designed for everyone. This is important as Paths for All want more people to benefit from everyday walking. Well designed and maintained paths is essential to making walking an easier option, especially, if you are living with sensory or cognitive decline.

“Working with Evanton Community Woodland and the local community has helped us to understand the obstacles anyone living with dementia has to overcome to get outdoors and how best to overcome these issues.”

There are many barriers for someone living with dementia when visiting the outdoors, including a lack of information about accessible outdoor spaces, the services available – for example, parking, paths, terrain, and toilets.

Levels of fitness required, costs – for example when paying for parking – safety concerns and transport issues can also be obstacles for those living with dementia.

People living with dementia benefit from being outdoors and in contact with nature as it can help to relieve stress, increase self-esteem, produce vitamin D, and exercises the brain, helping with memory and cognitive functioning.

Even 10 to 15 minutes of daily walking outdoors can improve the overall wellbeing of anyone living with dementia. Physical activity can bring many benefits, such as improved: sleep; physical fitness; confidence; mood; and self-esteem. Being active can help improve memory and slow down mental decline as well as reduce the risk of osteoporosis and stroke.

A celebration event on Friday 15th March 2019 was held at Evanton Community Woodland to hand over their Dementia Friendly Environments Recognition Awards from Paths for All. A short walk and woodland activity provided opportunities to learn how better design of outdoor spaces can help improve the quality of life for anyone living with dementia.

Simon Harry, Evanton Community Woodland Officer, said: “The partnership with Paths for All has enabled Evanton wood to build on its work supporting those with a dementia diagnosis.  This work aims to provide regular woodland experiences, offering a variety of engaging activities, to those who might otherwise be unable to take part. 

“By consulting those who have been touched by dementia, we have been able to highlight, then address, the issues that are seen as major barriers to visiting the woods. We are hoping now to keep the momentum going and look at the next phases of work we can do to further support these visits.”

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Lynda Hamilton Parker is a Scottish PR expert and independent publisher

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