Dundee’s health project – Steps to Health – has been awarded Dementia Friendly Walking recognition

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Walkers during a Paths For All Health Walk in Dalkeith, Edinburgh on September 22, 2020, in Edinburgh, Scotland (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)

Managed by Leisure and Culture Dundee, the community health project Steps to Health has received walking charity Paths for All’s, Dementia Friendly Walking accreditation.

Leisure and Culture Dundee’s Steps to Health community project aims to increase the number of inactive people walking in and around Dundee to improve their health and wellbeing. This long running project is a Scottish Health Walk Network member that prior to the Covid-19 pandemic offered nine free community Health Walks across the city to support people with a range of long-term health conditions enjoy a more active lifestyle.

Walking is free, requires no special equipment other than comfortable clothing and can help to reduce the risk of:

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Colon and breast cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Osteoporosis
  • Depression
  • Dementia

Regular walking can also support people to live well with long-term health conditions. For anyone living with dementia getting outdoors and in contact with nature can help relieve stress, increase self-esteem, produce vitamin D, and exercise the brain, helping with memory and cognitive functioning.

Consultations in 2019 with people living with dementia who attended Alzheimer’s Scotland’s Dementia Resource Centre café in the city found that people would like to walk in a variety of settings such as parks, woodlands, or gardens. Carers were keen on the social aspect of group Health Walks to meet other people and hear about local activities.

Working with Alzheimer’s Scotland and NHS Tayside’s health and estate staff a weekly Dementia Friendly Health Walk was established at Ninewells Hospital using wheelchair accessible paths in the community garden and surrounding woodland.

Further partnership working with an occupational therapist at Kingsway Care Centre in Dundee resulted in wooden memory boxes being crafted containing activities and games to stimulate reminiscence and conversation. The memory boxes aim to enhance the walking experience by encouraging mental stimulation and offering positive sensory experiences.

Three of the memory boxes have been placed in the woodland at Ninewells Hospital with the main resource box kept in the Ninewells Hospital community garden. These resources have been promoted to the local Care Home Activity Co-ordinator Nework to enable other groups to use the woodland and memory boxes for short walks.

One carer who regularly joined the Health Walk with their loved one reported:

The one massive positive difference I noticed was the change in physical ability and the difference it made if a week was missed.  As a result of the walk, [Walker] felt more able to do more in the house and was spurred on to practice balance exercises.  [Walker] absolutely loved being outdoors, whatever the weather and the walks were a massive benefit overall.”

Leisure and Culture Dundee’s Health and Wellbeing coordinator Elaine Ross is looking to recruit more volunteers to lead the Ninewells Hospital Dementia Health Walk now restrictions are lifted on outdoor exercise groups. She said:

“A lot of development work has gone into our Health Walk programme, especially the Ninewells Hospital Dementia Friendly Walk. The pandemic has stopped many support groups from meeting. Steps to Health feel it is important for people with any long-term health conditions to exercise and walking is a great way to keep fit, meet new people and feel good.” 

“Our project needs more volunteers to lead walks now restrictions are lifted. Many health professional staff who led our walks are supporting NHS Tayside’s response to Covid-19.”

“We are loooking for new Volunteer Walk Leaders to lead short Health Walks from 30 minutes to 1 hour in length, risk asses the walks, design new walking routes, offer a friendly welcome to new walkers and provide encouragement during the walk.”

“We need people who are good communicators, friendly, reliable and have a non-judgmental attitude to help people living with dementia and any other health conditions feel safe and supported.”

“Walk Leader training will be provided to new volunteers online by Paths for All, in addition to dementia awareness training to plan friendly and stimulating walks.”

The closure of day care and other services due to the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a loss of formal and informal support, services, and activities for people with dementia and unpaid carers. This loss of formal provision has also created additional caring duties for unpaid carers. Therefore, joining a Dementia Friendly Health Walk is a fantastic opportunity for people to socialise safely outdoors and help improve their mobility, confidence and to overcome feelings of isolation. 

Paths for All Manager, Frances Bain is delighted that Steps to Health have received their Dementia Friendly Walking award for making their Ninewells Hospital Health Walk suitable for anyone living with dementia and their carers. She said:

“Well done Steps to Health, managed by Leisure and Culture Dundee, for working in partnership with a wide range of organisations across Dundee to enable more people to live well with long-term health conditions such as dementia.”

“Walking is a free way for everyone to enjoy getting outdoors, connecting with nature, exploring their local area, and improving their wellbeing. It is important that the specific needs of people with a disability are also catered for. This is exactly what Steps to Health staff and volunteers have achieved with their Dementia Friendly Health Walk at Ninewells Hospital using accessible and sensory paths in the garden and woodlands.”

“The current Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of good quality pavements and paths that are accessible and safe to walk on to support improved physical, social and mental wellbeing.”

“We have moved our Volunteer Walk Leader training online throughout the pandemic and I would encourage anyone who wants to: make a difference in their community; meet new people; have fun and support people living with dementia to enjoy a good quality of life; to become a Volunteer Walk Leader with Steps to Health. You will be part of a network of over 11,400 trained volunteers.”

Contact Elaine Ross at Leisure and Culture Dundee – Steps to Health by emailing: elaine.ross@leisureandculturedundee.com or calling: 07586 492730.

Find out more about Leisure and Culture Dundee’s Steps to Health project on the website: www.pathsforall.org.uk/StepstoHealth

Find out more about Path for All’s Dementia Friendly Walking online at: www.pathsforall.org.uk/walking-for-health/dementia-friendly-walking

Learn more about becoming a Volunteer Walk Leader at: www.pathsforall.org.uk/walking-for-health/wfh-volunteering

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Walkers during a Paths For All Health Walk in Dalkeith, Edinburgh on September 22, 2020, in Edinburgh, Scotland (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)

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