The UK’s largest National Park has become the latest to receive Dementia Friendly Walking accreditation for its Nethy Bridge Health Walk.
The Cairngorms National Park’s new accreditation from Paths for All means anyone living with dementia and their carers can be assured their Health Walk is short, safe, friendly and free.
The park will have trained Volunteer Walk Leaders welcoming walkers to make them feel more confident being outdoors, while its short walking routes have been risk-assessed to consider traffic, noise levels and lighting throughout the day.
Refreshments will also be available after the walk to offer opportunities to socialise and reminisce.
Paths for All says 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 people living with dementia.
The Active Cairngorms Health Walks project, managed by the Cairngorms National Park Authority, has a network of 16 Health Walks led by 69 Volunteer Walk Leaders. Six volunteers have been central to the development of the Dementia Friendly Health Walk in Nethy Bridge.
This group has undertaken local consultations with professionals, people living with dementia, and their carers to understand what support they might need to participate in the short, local, led walks in their village.
It discovered that points of natural or historical interest can start a conversation to aid reminiscence. Good walking surfaces with plenty of sensory stimulation, such as scented plants, make a walk more enjoyable.
Photos of the route with a simple description can show a walker where they will be going. Talking about the route and what’s coming up next helps to remind a walker where they are. Encouraging carers to talk to others in the group lets them enjoy some time to themselves.
Through Paths for All’s support the volunteers have undergone Dementia Friendly Walk Leader training to make them aware of the sensory and cognitive challenges posed by the condition. They have also received promotional posters; name badges to make leaders identifiable; walking reminder cards with the date and time of the walk; and information booklets.
Jane Lilley, a Volunteer Walk Leader with the Nethy Bridge Health Walk group, said: “Making our walks Dementia Friendly was not a huge leap for us, as we were already including people with memory issues. However, the course has made us more aware of potential problems and how we can overcome them to ensure that everyone enjoys the health benefits and sheer enjoyment of walking.”
Jackie Farquhar, Health Walks Coordinator for the Cairngorms National Park Authority, praised the volunteers involved in making their Health Walk more accessible, saying: “We are delighted and excited that Nethy Bridge Health Walk Group has been awarded Dementia Friendly Walking Accreditation by Paths for All.
“We would like to say a huge thank you to the volunteer Health Walk Leaders who gave so much of their time to learn how best to support people living with dementia; to research appropriate dementia friendly walking routes; and to reach out to those living with dementia, their carers and organisations to understand what is most important about walking when living with dementia.
“Without their dedication, enthusiasm and willingness to try something new this would not be have been possible. We hope to support other groups in the Cairngorms to become dementia friendly in the future.”
Paths for All’s Chief Officer, Ian Findlay CBE, is delighted there are more Walking for Health projects in Scotland who are supporting Dementia Friendly Walking.
He said: “I would like to congratulate Active Cairngorms and their team of fantastic volunteers for adapting their walks to become more accessible and inclusive for people living with dementia and their family, friends and carers.
“This is especially important when there are so many benefits to everyone becoming more active and spending time in nature. Exercise, fresh air and company is good for improving physical, mental and social health.”
Find out more about Active Cairngorm’s Health Walks on Paths for All’s website.
Paths for All’s Dementia Friendly Walking Project is supported by The Life Changes Trust, The National Lottery Community Fund, William Grant Foundation, The Robertson Trust, Spirit of 2012, sportscotland and the Scottish Government.