An Open University research team led by Dr Jitka Vseteckova, Knowledge Exchange & Enterprise Lead for the School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care (HWSC), are working with The Parks Trust, an independent charity caring for over 6,000 acres of parkland and green space in Milton Keynes, to evaluate a new walking programme initiative for people living with dementia and their informal carers and families.
The OU-led study ‘Keep Me Walking’ will explore how people with dementia interact with the outdoors as well as with other people, during facilitated walks on Parks Trust land. Researchers will be working to understand what the barriers and facilitators are to engagement with these walks and how regular attendance can be enabled.
Dr Jitka Vseteckova, the OU Research Team Lead said:
“We plan to interview family members, programme organisers and people living with dementia, as well as conducting observations and taking notes on the engagement of the all involved. This will give us a fuller picture of the uptake and continuous engagement with the walking programme for people living with dementia and their carers, including perspectives and experiences from everybody involved in the process.”
Research shows us that it’s healthy for everybody to get outdoors and there are sustained benefits for those aged 65+ from regular engagement with physical activities. Green spaces and nature can be restful, inspiring and invigorate the senses.
While we know that spending time outdoors improves physical and mental health, getting out can be challenging, on many levels, for people living with dementia and their families and carers, even more so in the times of COVID-19.
The ‘Keep Me Walking’ project facilitates monthly* dementia-friendly coffee mornings and guided walks for local people at the 5 Ways Café in the beautiful grounds of Manor Park in Great Linford, a property managed by The Parks Trust. It is this initiative that the OU-led research project is evaluating; in particular the walking outings facilitated for people with dementia, their families and carers.
The OU Research Team, which includes nine academics across the Schools of Health, Wellbeing & Social Care (HWSC) and Education, Childhood, Youth & Sport (ECYS), aim to measure the engagement and impact of the walking programme on care home residents. They want to understand what keeps people living with dementia, and their informal carers, engaging with the walks and enjoying, and benefiting from, outdoor environments.
The evaluation will take into account practical issues such as staffing, as well as emotional engagement (how does it feel to be in the natural environment) to gain a full understanding of the factors that affect continuous engagement.
Researchers aim to measure the experience and outcomes for residents in order to improve practices, not only for The Parks Trust and local care homes, but also for other service providers and commissioners of care home and voluntary sector services for residents with dementia.
*NOTE: Due to COVID-19 the 5 Ways Café is temporarily on pause, but the organisers hope to start up a series of dementia-friendly walks at Great Linford Manor Park very soon.