Aberdeenshire volunteers lead the way with Dementia Friendly Walking

Westhill Walking to Health group have received Dementia Friendly Walking status for their Wednesday morning one-hour Health Walk.

Westhill Walking to Health group

Our award reassures anyone living with dementia and their carers that the walk will be welcoming, accessible, safe and friendly. This reassurance is important to encourage people living with the long-term health condition to enjoy an active and full life.

The team of dedicated volunteer Walk Leaders in Westhill, which is situated seven miles west of the city of Aberdeen, attended our Dementia Friendly Walk Leader training. This course gave them the skills to support more people to live well with dementia in their local community. The group receive support from a Health Walk Co-ordinator employed by Live Life Aberdeenshire to encourage more people to become active and stay active to benefit their health and wellbeing. 

Local consultations with professionals and people living with dementia provided insight to the simple changes that would make the weekly walk more accessible. Suggestions included keeping the walk at the same time and location every week to ensure consistency. Having a specific person to provide a warm welcome to help build strong relationships. This is important to support and reassure walkers that there is someone there to help them. Avoiding very shadowy or shaded areas and large puddles on walking routes as these are confusing if someone is experiencing cognitive and sensory impairments. Including points or features of interest to give an opportunity to reminisce, learn something new or to stimulate the senses such as scented flowers in a sensory garden. All walking routes need to be level with an even surface. 

Health Walk Co-ordinator for Aberdeenshire, Kirsty Muirden, found the process of supporting the Westhill Health Walk to become Dementia Friendly beneficial. She said:

I think for both myself and the leaders involved, it has been a really interesting process which has challenged our views and preconceptions of the condition.  It has been really rewarding to see how the group has progressed. They have really grown as a project, not only in numbers but also in the quality of their services to the community. I cannot take credit for what has been achieved, as this has been largely down to the leaders and their willingness to undertake extra training, re-risk assess their walking routes, change their resources, and generally being more mindful of how they might engage with and welcome walkers living with dementia to their group.

It has also been invaluable to have the input of a local dementia day care service and two local groups supported by Alzheimer Scotland, who allowed us to consult with their groups and have supported us through the process. It could not have been achieved without their willingness to engage with us and support us on this journey. 

When Volunteer Walk Leader Lynda Langlands retired, she was keen to support her local community and decided to attend the Paths for All Walk Leader training after she realised there were no Health Walks in the Westhill area. When the opportunity arose for the walking group to become Dementia Friendly Walking accredited, she was keen to be involved after her own personal experience of supporting a family member with the condition. 

She said:

The weekly Health Walk has been a really rewarding activity to be involved in, particularly seeing the progression of walkers towards a fitter and healthier lifestyle.  I am thoroughly enjoying being part of the group, connecting with the walkers and leaders and seeing the social confidence growing within the group.

As a group we have all been involved in the Dementia Friendly Walking accreditation process.  The walk leaders and many of the walkers were keen to take part in the training. We feel ready now to welcome anyone living with dementia and their carers to our weekly walks.  We have adapted some of our walking routes to be more Dementia Friendly. We have always tailored walks to the abilities of walkers with often two levels of walk on offer.

Ian Findlay CBE, our Chief Officer is delighted that volunteers have made their Health Walk Dementia Friendly. He said:

I would like to congratulate Westhill Walking for Health group’s team of dedicated volunteers for achieving our Dementia Friendly Walking accreditation.

This award has been designed to encourage more people living with a long-term health condition, and their carers to feel safe and supported on short outdoor walks in company. Walking groups are a great way to meet new people, explore a local area, and enjoy gentle exercise. Walking can offer many health benefits including mood, cognitive functioning and memory improvements.

I am a passionate believer in the beneficial effects of green exercise and the restorative powers of spending time in greenspaces.

People living with long term health conditions face more barriers to getting outdoors. It is important that these issues are overcome, and community activities like Health Walks are inclusive.

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 a person living with dementia.

A certificate of recognition was presented to volunteers and walkers on Wednesday, 18th December at Westhill Community Centre. This is where the weekly walk meets at 10am before heading outdoors and finishing with refreshments. 

Westhill Walking for Health group are part of the network of 27 Health Walks across Aberdeenshire supported by a Health Walk Co-ordinator employed by Live Life Aberdeenshire and part funded by Paths for All. The project encourages over 320 adults to enjoy the benefits of a short walk in company. Over 100 enthusiastic leaders welcome, support and motivate walkers on these weekly walks, lasting from 30 minutes to one-hour. 

Find out more about Westhill Walking for Health on our website

For more information on Aberdeenshire Health Walks project visit the Live Life Aberdeenshire website

Across Scotland there are 31 Walking for Health projects with Paths for All’s Dementia Friendly Walking accreditation delivering over 145 Dementia Friendly Health Walks every week with over 535 trained Dementia Friendly Walking volunteer leaders. 

Find out more about Path for All’s Dementia Friendly Walking on our website

Our 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.

For further information please contact Paths for All’s Dementia Friendly Walking team at dementiafriendly@pathsforall.org.uk or on 01259 218 888