Thursday, 4 May 2017

Walk and Talk - a dementia initiative

This week’s guest author is Heather Wenban, the Project Development Officer – Dementia Care, at Powys Teaching Health Board. I first heard Heather speak at the Dementia Supportive Communities event in North Powy in 2016, and later found out that she had set up a “Walk and Talk” group in the area for people with dementia, those close to them, and staff members. Following a successful season of walks in 2016, this year’s programme is about to start with the first walk scheduled to take place during Dementia Awareness Week 14 – 20 May 2017. Heather says: “the walk will take place in Newtown leaving the Gravel Car park (the smaller car park) on Tuesday 16th May, at 2pm. This will be followed by tea in the Elephant & Castle. All welcome to join the group.”

Over to Heather to tell us more about how the Walk and Talk group came about:

Whilst I was working as part of the Adult Mental Health team in Shropshire I became involved in the regular Walk & Talk groups they initiated, during the summer months. They were facilitated by a variety of staff members from the clinical psychologists, mental health nurses, occupational therapists, and support workers and normally had 3 staff attending each walk.

Heather Wenban
The benefits were obvious from the outset. Some were excited about where they would be walking that day and the challenge it may bring, others may arrive looking a little depressed and apathetic and wondering why they had come and others came for the meal we would have when we finished!

When I began my role as Dementia Adviser nurse in North Powys, and having seen the benefits of this type of group, I believed that this would be appropriate for our older population and those living with dementia and we could adapt it to meet their needs.

The young onset dementia nurse and I discussed the idea with our carers before running the group to gain a feel for their interest and it was met with very positive comments. The feedback we received whilst it was running was also very positive and they didn’t want it to end as the autumn months were approaching! They felt it gave them the opportunity to talk with others in similar positions and doing it informally, as they were walking, encouraged openness. The carer felt it made the person with dementia calmer and they appeared to feel relaxed and felt no pressure to participate. They would enjoy listening to others talk and always enjoyed walks where water was visible.

As staff we would have background knowledge about the person and this enabled us to talk with them about things that mattered to them. For example, we might talk about their previous work experience or hobbies that they used to enjoy. One of our carers was a local historian and he shared information about the local communities in which we were walking. It would also alert us to any potential crisis situations and we were able to address any issues and reduce the risk of carer breakdown and potential hospital admissions.

It is so important to engage people with dementia in social activities that enrich their lives and stimulate engagement. It benefits mental and physical health and gives people a sense of well-being and improves their quality of life.

Research now supports improved:

Emotional state, reduced stress, agitation, anger, apathy and depression, physical health, skin health, fitness, sleeping and eating patterns, verbal expression, memory and attention, awareness, multi-sensory engagement and joy, wellbeing, independence self esteem and control, social interaction and a sense of belonging. (Greening Dementia 2012).

These are two quotes from the person with dementia and a carer's perspective from the Natural England commissioned report “Is it nice outside? – Consulting people living with Dementia and their carers about engaging with the natural environment” (2016).

“What it is, the fact that if you are out in the open area, it brings a whole new perspective to how you feel, you are not in an enclosed space indoors where you are thinking well, this is my world, that’s their world out there. You go out into their world, as one might say, you enjoy walking, swimming whatever, anything which gives you more exercise to the body, actually exercises the mind as well and fresh air is excellent for people with dementia of any sort because mine should be getting worse all the time but it’s not. It is staying stable and as a result I am still walking, volunteer walk leader and I thoroughly enjoy it, I now walk about 60 miles a month on average.”

“So we just used to walk the streets literally just walk round and round and round until he felt better and… it could be any time of the day or night and that really helped him to be outside… it helped him to calm down again and I don’t know how it worked but it did I guess it just put his mind in a different place.”

The benefits of this group are obvious from both a research perspective and for the mutal benefit of carers and the person living with dementia, in maintaining both their physical and mental health.

Many thanks to Heather for telling us about the Walk and Talk group in North Powys. As soon as we have further dates for the 2017 season they will be added to the Powys Mental Health website events calendar.

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