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'Dementia Friendly' accreditation boost for Nethy Bridge Health Walk group in Cairngorms National Park

By Philip Murray

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FANS of the great outdoors who have dementia will still be able to enjoy walking in the Cairngorms National Park after one of the area's walk groups was handed 'Dementia Friendly' accreditation.

The park's Nethy Bridge Health Walk has received the accreditation from Paths for All, which means anyone living with dementia, and their carers, "can be assured that their Health Walk is short, safe, friendly and free".

The group will have trained 'Volunteer Walk Leaders' welcoming walkers to make them feel more confident being outdoors.

The short walking routes have also been risk assessed to consider traffic, noise levels and lighting throughout the day. Refreshments will be available after the walk as well, to offer opportunities to socialise and reminisce.

Research suggests people living with dementia benefit from being outdoors and in contact with nature as it can help to relieve stress, increase self-esteem and produce vitamin D. It also 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.

“Making our walks dementia friendly was not a huge leap for us, as we were already including people with memory issues," said Jane Lilley a volunteer walk leader with the Nethy Bridge Health Walk group. "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."

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.

They learnt that points of natural or historical interest can start a conversation to aid memory. Good walking surfaces with plenty of sensory stimulation, such as scented plants, also 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.

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.

Jackie Farquhar, Health Walks Coordinator for the Cairngorms National Park Authority, praised the volunteers involved in making their health walk more accessible.

"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.”

Find out more about Active Cairngorm's Health Walks on Paths for All’s website.

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

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