Paths for All – dementia friendly health walks
Paths for All, who are part funded by Scottish Government, involved people with dementia in the planning and design of their dementia friendly walking programme. We invited Carl Greenwood, Senior Development Officer at Paths for All to share the positive impact this has had.
At Paths for All, we support a network of over 670 Health Walks that take place in communities across Scotland. A Health Walk is short, safe, social and led by trained volunteers. This makes Health Walks an ideal way for people who have not been active for a while through ill health or managing a long term condition to build some physical activity back into their life. They also provide an opportunity to meet other people and connect with nature. The walks are delivered by a range of organisations including local authorities, NHS boards, leisure trusts and community organisations.
Since 2015, we have been working with this network to create a safer, more welcoming and inclusive experience for people living with dementia and their carers, who face lots of barriers in accessing walking and outdoor spaces. This can include a lack of confidence about what to expect and the support and facilities on offer, safety concerns and information about safe and accessible places to visit.
Our Dementia Friendly Walking Accreditation recognises the positive changes put in place by Health Walk providers to make their walks accessible for people living with dementia. Key to attaining the accreditation is involving people with dementia in the planning and development of walks. We work with local Health Walk coordinators to carry out consultations with people with dementia, carers, community groups and Walking for Health projects to establish specific barriers, motivations, opportunities and ideas. These conversations are normally in small groups or one-to-one and can take place during a Health Walk or at other community events and activities such as a dementia café in partnership with local community organisations. Key topics will include people’s experience of walking and what sorts of walks they enjoy (e.g. walking in woodland or taking in local history), logistics around timings, facilities and meeting places and what information and support would help them take part as well as any concerns they may have about joining a group. Wherever the consultation takes place, time is taken to make the event accessible and welcoming, DEEP has some excellent resources and guidance around this that has been designed by people with dementia. We work on the principle that if something is Dementia Friendly and works for people with dementia it will also work for everyone else.
Through speaking with people with dementia over the past seven years, we know there is a desire to be active and enjoy the outdoors and this is something that is highly valued. As one walker told us, ‘I have a history of walking and I do not want to stop.’
An evaluation of our Dementia Friendly Walking programme by The University of Stirling also highlights the benefits that walking in a supportive group brings. The team of researchers visited six walking groups and conducted walk along interviews with people with dementia and carers, and group discussions over a cup of tea after the walk. The increase in social contact, friendships and the reduction in feelings of loneliness were all talked about, as well as a better understanding of dementia and the breaking down of stigma relating to dementia amongst other participants in the walking group.
Participation in practice: Healthy Valleys, South Lanarkshire
Recently, Healthy Valleys in South Lanarkshire achieved our Dementia Friendly Walking Accreditation. The project prioritises deprived areas and supports people who are at a high risk of poor physical and mental health, have a long-term health condition, and are isolated or lonely. Involving people living with dementia in the design of their activities has been an important step in providing the services that are inclusive and help meet the needs of the wider community.
Consultations with people living with dementia and their carers found everyone had walking ‘memories’ they could talk about, like walking to school, or enjoying local landmarks, such as Tinto Hill, with their families. Many people missed being able to walk regularly or spend time outdoors and the support of an organised walk with a trained walk leader provided confidence to join in as one walker commented, “as long as I have an arm to support me, I like to walk [and see] the colours and the trees.” Local short walking routes that are easy to reach and accessible for a range of walking abilities with well maintained, wide and level paths and pavements were seen as very important, with access to toilets at meeting points also a key consideration. Carers felt they would benefit from a walk as a form of respite as well as the social aspect of the walking group.
As a result, all four of Healthy Valleys Dementia Friendly Health Walks offer short accessible walks from 30 minutes to 1 hour maximum and have accessible meeting places with toilets.
14 Volunteer Health Walk Leaders with Healthy Valleys have attended Paths for All’s Dementia Friendly Walk Leader training and Dementia Friends Awareness training to help them in their role. The volunteers have received branded jackets, face masks, woolly hats, hi-visibility vests, and name badges to make them easily identifiable for any walker who needs assistance.
What we’ve achieved so far
To date we have worked with over 30 local projects like Healthy Valleys to help them achieve our Dementia Friendly Walking Accreditation. This has given us a huge insight into the value that can come from walking and being more active, whether in a group, alone or with family and friends. It is a link to the community, a sense of normality/familiarity and allows a sense independence as it’s something they have ‘always done’.
34 Walking for Health projects have achieved the accreditation and are delivering over 145 Dementia Friendly Health Walks each week. Over 750 volunteers have attended Dementia Friendly Walk Leader training.
What we’ve learned
From the start of this work back in 2015, our approach has been shaped by the input and experiences of people living with dementia. We have tailored our support and resources in response to this. Alongside the practicalities and logistics of where and when walks take place, what has been most interesting to hear about is what really matters for people living with dementia who attend a Health Walk group. A Dementia Friendly walk is not just about a particular length of walk, a specific path surface or what day or time the walk takes place (although all of these things can be important), a Dementia Friendly walk is about an approach and ethos within the group itself. One of the most interesting things is just how important it is for people to be part of a walk that is open to the whole community. It is this social aspect of walking, talking and having a laugh that creates a sense of belonging and community within the group that is really valued, neatly summed up this quote from one walker , “It is part of the group – it is part of belonging. When you come to our group, we end up belonging to one another.” Below are some of the key learning points from our project:
- It is open to the whole community (not a closed group)
- It is social and friendly
“You just never know what conversation you will have next.”
- It is enabling and demonstrates what someone living with dementia can do
“I do a lot of walking and really enjoy getting out and about… It can be easy to just sit in the house if the weather is not so good but I know that there will always be a group of people who turn up at the park no matter the weather so that encourages me to make the effort to go along.”
- It is safe and secure, walks have been risk assessed and procedures are in place to maintain the safety of the group
“I would never walk here by myself but I feel safe with the group”.
- It is supported by a trained walk leader and the rest of the group take on informal roles to support and look out for the group
“I was immediately welcomed into the group when I joined, everyone was friendly and that was important to me.”
Find out more about our work
The locations of all our Health Walks, including those that are Dementia Friendly, can be found on our online map. There are a selection of walkers’ stories about the impact of our walking groups here.
You can also keep up to date with our project by signing up to our quarterly newsletter