The Sunday Post (Newcastle)

Dementia patients revel in getting new sense of adventure

Alzheimer charity opens ground-breaking activity centre that could be rolled out across Scotland

- By Richard Baynes

The plight of ageing adventurer­s unable to follow their passion due to dementia has prompted a Scottish charity to set up the UK’s first outdoor activity centre for people with the condition.

And the idea of adventures for those with dementia, dreamed up by staff at Alzheimer Scotland (AS), could now be rolled out across Scotland to benefit many more sufferers.

Aviemore – in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park – has attracted skiers, climbers, hill-walkers and canoeists for decades. As they grow older, some inevitably succumb to the brainwasti­ng condition, which damages memory and can make simple tasks difficult.

Until now that has meant an abrupt end to their outdoor lifestyle, with many carers viewing such activities as too dangerous. That has left sufferers missing the fresh air and sense of adventure they have enjoyed all their lives.

But, when local staff from Alzheimer Scotland (AS) came across the problem, the charity set about tackling it – and has now set up an Outdoor Dementia Resource Centre, 1,000ft up in the wooded hill country at Badaguish near Aviemore.

It delivers cycling, walking, gardening, forest bathing and other activity sessions three times a week, and is attracting growing numbers of local residents.

AS staff member Kenny Wright explained how the area’s adventure heritage had driven the establishm­ent of the centre. He said: “We were in contact with lots of people with dementia who had at one time been very active in the outdoors and were quite often getting physically frail.

“Getting out and about was becoming more difficult for them and this was having a negative impact on their lives in a lot of different ways.”

He and AS colleague Gillian Councill decided to act, starting by working with local forest rangers to set up a simple activity session in a clearing in the woods near Loch Morlich in Glen More.

It attracted a crowd of participan­ts and their carers, convincing the pair that they were doing the right thing. They set up monthly meetings in a giant tepee that could be taken to sites around the area, but there was a demand for more.

After a break for the pandemic, the Cairngorm National Park stepped in with a cash grant. This enabled the establishm­ent of the centre last summer in a log cabin in a woodland clearing.

Now there are three sessions a week at the centre, where those taking part can enjoy activities specially adapted to their needs. Bikes that allow anything from supervised solo cycling to sitting on the cycle while others pedal are provided.

“They can start in a soft-floored arena and progress onto the local traffic-free trails. The centre’s garden is being developed with fragrant plants to stimulate senses, and that are good for wildlife, with planters at wheelchair height.

Other activities are supervised and tailored to the needs of those with dementia. Forest bathing – a meditative way of enjoying the sensory aspect of woodland – is popular.

Carers are encouraged to join in and, for many family carers, it provides an opportunit­y to bond with a loved one through mutual enjoyment of the activity.

Wright said: “There is definitely an element of people with dementia having an adventure, doing something different: there is an element of challenge.

“By the end of that two-hour session you have folks who have not been on a bike for decades doing laps [of the arena].

“That for them is quite a challenge, an adventure … we’re pushing people but in a very supportive way.”

Councill said carers report an increase in contentmen­t, communicat­ion and memory in participan­ts, with being in nature having a powerful effect: “They’re in this multisenso­ry natural environmen­t and they don’t have to battle with things like traffic and noise – it’s very good at making people feel calm,” she said. “The words people use [to describe it] are calm, contented and relaxed.”

She said it gives her a personal thrill to see what participan­ts get out of sessions. She added: “Sometimes it’s because of a connection that someone has, mother and daughter or husband and wife riding a bike together, getting to see the joy on people’s faces when they didn’t think they could still have fun like that together, that’s really special.

“And sometimes it’s about seeing people achieve their own personal goals – that definitely brings tears to your eyes, seeing people doing something they didn’t think they could do.”

She said there had been concerns about controllin­g risk from some quarters but they had found ways to do it, and she added: “What we would like to happen is that we develop this work here and it becomes a blueprint for how people in other national parks or other areas could be supporting people living with dementia in the outdoors.”

At a recent cycling session, a carer who rode a tandem trike with his wife around the grounds said: “It’s a great way of getting exercise – she used to cycle a lot, but can’t go a standard bike any more.

“There’s lasting benefit as far as the short-term memory goes – in the evening there’s a chance she’ll remember she was here and say it was a good day.”

Kathy Barnaby works at The Glen day centre for older people in Aviemore and brings a group of participan­ts to sessions.

She said: “They just love it, and they are amazed they can get on the bike and cycle.

“They love the gardening, getting their hands dirty. The scenery here is amazing, a lot will remember what they’ve done and talk about it when they go home to their families.”

 ?? ??
 ?? Picture James Lee ?? Kenny Wright and Gillian Councill at the new dementia centre.
Picture James Lee Kenny Wright and Gillian Councill at the new dementia centre.
 ?? ?? AS worker Sarah, above, and Tim guiding Mick at basketmaki­ng.
AS worker Sarah, above, and Tim guiding Mick at basketmaki­ng.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom