Scotland gets its first dementia friendly woodland

Paths For All at Evanton Community Woods.

A woodland in the Highlands is the first in Scotland to become dementia friendly.

The area around the woodland cabin has been remodelled to make it easier to walk around and new signage has been displayed to make it dementia friendly – these signs have been installed on the compost toilet and outdoor sink.

In addition, the areas around benches have been made wheelchair accessible to stimulate conversations and activities and staff and volunteers have been given a uniform so visitors are aware of who to approach.

Paths for All, a Scotland walking charity, has been working to help make Evanton Community Woodland accessible for people living with dementia.

Ian Findlay, Paths for All’s chief officer, 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.

“If outdoor spaces are well designed for someone living with dementia, they are well designed for everyone. This is important as Paths for All want more people to benefit from everyday walking. Well designed and maintained paths is essential to making walking an easier option, especially, if you are living with sensory or cognitive decline.

“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.”

The adaptations were made thanks to a £6,000 funding grant from the Life Changes Trust.

Path for All talked to people living with dementia, carers, the local Health Walking group Step it Up Highland and also held community consultations to come up with the best ways to make the woodland more accessible.

There are many barriers which can prevent people living with dementia visiting the outdoors, such as lack of parking, paths and toilets.

Being outdoors can be hugely beneficial and it can help to relieve stress, increase self-esteem, produce vitamin D, and exercise the brain, helping with memory and cognitive functioning.

Simon Harry, Evanton Community Woodland officer, said: “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, 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.”

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