A woodland in the Highlands has become Scotland’s first to be designated “dementia friendly”. Evanton Community Woodland, with support from the walking charity Paths for All, has been revamped to be accessible for people living with dementia.
New features include resurfaced paths close to a woodland cabin, which make it easier to walk around, and dementia friendly signage.
There are other changes, such as wheelchair accessible areas around benches to encourage conversations and a range of new supportive activities.
Special uniforms have also been designed for staff and volunteers to make them easily recognisable as a person to approach to ask for assistance.
Walking benefits for dementia
It is estimated that Scotland has around 90,000 people with a dementia diagnosis who could benefit from more everyday walking opportunities.
But there are many barriers for someone living with dementia when visiting the outdoors, including a lack of information about accessible outdoor spaces and the services available, such as parking, paths, terrain and toilets.
Other obstacles can include fitness levels, costs – for example, when paying for parking – safety concerns and transport issues.
Yet research has shown that there are many benefits for people with dementia if they spend more time outdoors and in contact with nature.
These include stress relief, increased self-esteem, boost of vitamin D and exercises for the brain that help with memory and cognitive functioning.
Even 10 to 15 minutes of daily walking outdoors can improve the overall wellbeing of anyone living with dementia.
Physical activity can bring added benefits, such as improved sleep, physical fitness, confidence, mood and self-esteem.
Being active can help to improve memory and slow down mental decline, as well as reduce the risk of osteoporosis and stroke.
Projects by Paths For All
Paths For All has recognised a need to create places where people with dementia can more easily access the outdoors.
The charity supports 22 Dementia Friendly Walking projects and has trained 249 Dementia Friendly Volunteer Walk Leaders.
Last year, they helped to launch Scotland’s first dementia friendly park in Stirling.
Kings Park now has updated signage for the public toilets, a handrail on a steep section of path, benches to provide rest points and a leaflet and map to help plan visits and wayfinding.
The latest project at Evanton Community Woodland included a consultation with people living with dementia, their carers and local health walking group Step It Up Highland to identify needs.
Funding of £6000 from the Life Changes Trust, Robertson Trust and The William Grant Foundation also assisted with the upgrades.
Ian Findlay, chief officer at Paths for All, said: “Improving outdoor spaces for people living with dementia is important to ensure they can get outside to benefit from sunlight, fresh air and sensory stimulation.
“Working with Evanton Community Woodland and the local community has helped us to understand the obstacles anyone living with dementia has to overcome to get outdoors and how best to overcome these issues.”
Simon Harry, an officer at Evanton Community Woodland, said it had been an interesting project to work on.
He added: “The partnership with Paths for All has enabled Evanton wood to build on its work supporting those with a dementia diagnosis.
“This work aims to provide regular woodland experiences, offering a variety of engaging activities, to those who might otherwise be unable to take part.
“By consulting those who have been touched by dementia, we have been able to highlight and then address the issues that are seen as major barriers to visiting the woods.
“We are hoping now to keep the momentum going and look at the next phases of work we can do to further support these visits.”
Paths for All has produced a Dementia and the Outdoors Guidance Note to help improve the accessibility of the outdoors.
This article appeared in the Sunday Mail: