New research by the University of Stirling on our Dementia Friendly Walking project

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“I am walking to keep myself alive”

Earlier this year, Paths for All commissioned The University of Stirling’s Faculty of Social Science to evaluate the progress of the Dementia Friendly Walking project. The research team spent time visiting a number of dementia friendly health walks and carried out interviews and focus group discussions with walkers and volunteers.

The research found that health walks play an important part in enabling people living with dementia to access the outdoors, engage in physical activity, and meet other people within a largely safe and secure outdoor environment. Support in the form of volunteer walk leaders was crucial to delivering dementia friendly health walks.

Five key themes emerged from the research:

  • 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.

The report also made some specific recommendations around ensuring adequate support and training is given to volunteer walk leaders to fulfil their role. In addition, volunteer walk leaders should also be given recognition for the wider activities that they perform on top of just leading walks. The study highlighted the benefits of an inclusive model based on mixed groups including people with and without dementia as the main model for walks. While walks should be promoted as dementia friendly, a model based exclusively on walks for people with dementia may be less successful in facilitating the overarching sense of inclusiveness that those participating valued.

Dr Grant Gibson, lecturer in dementia studies and lead of the evaluation, said "our evaluation demonstrated that walking makes a valuable contribution to the lives of people living with dementia and their families.  For those attending the projects, benefits included improving people’s general health, and giving opportunities for some respite for both the person with dementia and for their carer.  In particular, the walking groups gave people living with dementia important opportunities to socialise with other people within their communities in a safe and comfortable environment."

The evaluation used a co-production methodology which involved three older people acting as community researchers. After receiving training in the collection of qualitative research data and data analysis the community researchers accompanied academic researchers in fieldwork.

Dr Jane Robertson, a lead researcher on the project, said, "working with community researchers to deliver this evaluation for Paths for All has highlighted the benefits of walking groups for people living with dementia. The inclusive nature of the project has been central to making the walks accessible and enjoyable. Participants felt they benefited from keeping fit and socialising within a friendly and supportive environment that enabled people to enjoy the outdoors and provided a sense of belonging."

Health walk groups from Walk with Braveheart, Volunteer Midlothian, Stride for Life, W.A.L.K East Dunbartonshire and Stirling Walking Network took part in the study.

You can download and read the full report and the executive summary here.

icon Dementia Friendly Evaluation 2017 (2.28 MB)

icon Dementia Friendly Evaluation Executive Summary 2017 (934.44 kB)


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