The charity, which aims to support the health and wellbeing of people living in the Highlands, has been offering a programme of Health Walks since 2001 and has seen an increasing number of people living with dementia join and benefit from their 17 weekly walks, 8 of which have restarted again after lockdown.
Realising that they could do more to support people living with dementia, and their carers, they received funding from Life Changes Trust and Paths for All to help develop their dementia services.
Consulting and building partnerships with local dementia support groups run by Alzheimer Scotland, local care homes, and other physical activity providers such as Highlife Highland has enabled the charity to redesign their services to meet local needs.
This Scottish Health Walk Network project now offers 6 certified Dementia Friendly Health Walks led by their network of 21 Volunteer Walk Leaders who have benefitted from dementia awareness training, first aid training, and Paths for All’s Dementia Friendly Volunteer Walk Leader training and Strength and Balance training for older adults.
Feedback from Volunteer Walk Leaders like Brenda Brown who leads the Dementia Friendly Walk in Dingwall is that the training she has received on supporting people living with dementia to enjoy time outdoors has been very insightful. It has helped her to understand the sensory and cognitive changes people living with dementia may be experiencing.
She said: "The training was good. It was interesting to learn about the sensory and spatial awareness considerations for those living with dementia."
The 6 P4W Walk Dementia Friendly Walking groups, with trained Dementia Friendly Walk Leaders, are in Dingwall, Beauly, Fortrose, Glen Urquhart, Tomatin, and Strathpeffer.
A walker who recently attended a Dementia Friendly walk has reported feeling: "Very happy to walk while listening to others chat and stopping to listen to the birds and enjoy the flowering plants."
Meanwhile, another walker commented: "We sometimes say the tongues get as much exercise as anything else."
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.
Whilst people living with dementia are vulnerable, they can leave the house to exercise and meet people (including others who aren’t in their household) outdoors but must follow the social distancing rules and Covid-19 guidance for their local area very carefully.
Health Walks are permitted under the organised sport (coaching) guidance and current Scottish Government local protection levels. A maximum of 30 participants can attend a registered Health Walk, detailed risk assessments are carried out and physical distancing is maintained.
Find out more on our website.
Our Chief Officer, Ian Findlay CBE congratulated P4W Walk for offering Dementia Friendly Health Walks. He said:
Well done to P4W Walk for creating supportive, inclusive, and empowering walking opportunities for people with dementia and their carers. I am delighted that more Scottish Health Walk Network projects are helping to raise awareness of the link between increased physical activity and quality of life for people living with dementia and those who care for them.
This message is even more important because of the Covid-19 pandemic where people living with a range of health conditions can benefit from a daily walk through moving their body, enjoying the fresh air, and if they choose, walking with company on a Health Walk.
P4W Walk’s network of dedicated volunteers is crucial to offering led group walks to support people who may not be confident going outdoors by themselves for a walk. Providing training opportunities for volunteers to increase their knowledge of how people can live well with dementia has been a key success of this project.
I would like to thank all P4W Walk’s volunteers and staff for their commitment to providing fun, friendly, and supportive Dementia Friendly Health Walks especially across rural parts of the Highlands.
P4W-Walk Health Walk Manager, Kate Thomson is delighted to receive the accreditation. She enthused:
Many thanks to Paths for All for this funding which gave us the opportunity to support our Health Walks to become Dementia Friendly. With this accreditation, we are very proud to be a Dementia Friendly Walking Project and we hope to build on this work by providing more opportunities for people living with dementia to access our walks.
For more information on P4W Walk visit their website.
For information on Health Walk groups across Highland visit our online Health Walk finder.