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How to make the most out of our visit to the Great Outdoors: walking with The Parks Trust and staying mindful

A new resource aimed to help people with dementia engage with their surroundings has been developed by The Parks Trust in Partnership with The Open University. This article explains more...

A resource for people living with dementia and their carers (for more information see our study at ).

It is a well-known fact that getting outdoors is healthy for everybody, young or old. Being close to nature and green spaces is relaxing, inspiring and stimulating, and promotes positive mental health. Taking notice of the world around us is one of the 5 Ways to Wellbeing, which means it is something that makes us feel good. Keeping active and taking care of our mental health is especially important as we get older and Green and Blue spaces are well recognised for making a substantial difference.

But it’s not always easy for older people, carers, care home residents and people living with dementia to go outdoors for a walk and it’s not always easy for those with caring responsibilities to take loved ones or residents out for exercise. There are many barriers and facilitators that can make it a challenge such as not having reliable access to transport or being unfamiliar with local parks and open spaces (for more information see our podcast, project website and resources below). In the joint project between The Parks Trust and The Open University we are looking more deeply into some of these barriers and facilitators to determine how we might make accessing the outdoors easier.

The Parks Trust have been awarded £3.1m from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the National Lottery Community Fund to increase awareness of and access to the heritage of Great Linford Manor Park in Milton Keynes. We want to bring the park to the local community so that they feel engaged, inspired and proud of what they find there. One way in which we’re achieving this is through increasing provision for people living with dementia and their carers. With help from the Friends of Great Linford Manor Park and the local church, St. Andrew’s, we have already established the 5 Ways Café, which provides a dementia friendly sociable environment and gentle guided walks of the park. You can read more about this initiative here. But we want to go further and empower more local people with dementia and their carers and loved ones to access their park on their schedule.

Carers have a very important place in our community and any type of physical activity, especially outdoors, can be seen as a potentially powerful intervention to enhance family carers’ health, reduce carers’ burden and use of care services. PA is also reported to reduce anxiety and depression, both of which carers are also often reported to suffer from.

To do this, The Parks Trust have worked with the Open University to develop a dementia-friendly Spotter Sheet for use at Great Linford Manor Park in Milton Keynes. The sheet is designed to accompany a walk in the park, or even just a relaxing rest on a park bench as a way to engage with surroundings and take notice of the wider world.

Sometimes it can feel very isolating to be caring for a loved one and so the Spotter Sheet aims to connect visitors to their surroundings and other park users in a relaxed and informal way. Especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is important to make the most of daily exercise and a simple aid like the Spotter Sheet can make even the shortest walk more exciting.

Ellie Broad, Community Engagement and Activity Coordinator at The Parks Trust

The Spotter Sheet is very simple, it encourages park visitors to look out for certain common sights in the park and to take notice of textures, smells and sounds. When a scene, feeling or smell has been identified it can be crossed off. The whole sheet can be completed by walking around or by sitting on a park bench. It could even be completed over several visits with the aim being to spot one thing each time. At the end of the Spotter Sheet there is the opportunity to write down how the walk and spotting activity made you feel, which may be useful to track wellbeing over different visits. And it’s not just for people living with dementia, it is suitable for anyone, so could be enjoyed by grandparents and grandchildren together.

Using the Spotter Sheet is also a way of increasing mindfulness during the walks in the parks. Bringing our mind to the walk, our awareness helps us to notice many more things around that would otherwise be overlooked. Everything we see is very engaging for our brain too. Stimulating our brain as much as possible is another way for us to keep our brain active and also prevent age-related and non-age-related memory loss.

‘Mindfulness is about moving away from ‘automatic pilot’ (what we think of as a ‘doing mode’) and moving to more of a being ‘mode’ where we are aware of our thoughts, feelings and experiences and can chose how we want to respond to them. ‘ Says Dr Abi Methley, Senior Clinical Psychologist in the Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, co-author of this article and the podcast looking into mindful walking.

We are very excited about the Spotter Sheet and will be exploring its benefits in more detail in a podcast you can listen to here. We hope that it inspires and empowers local people to try something new and to get to know their local green spaces so they feel safe and well.

The Spotter Sheet is completely free and can be downloaded from The Parks Trust website. We recommend printing it out so that it’s easier to cross off each item. However, if printing is a challenge for you, you can contact and we can send you a copy in the post. Please visit for more information about this study.

Authors: Ellie Broad, Abi Methley, Jitka Vseteckova

Further resources

Vseteckova J & Broad E  (2020) Keep Me Walking - researching with people living with dementia and their carers - Podcast – Open University in collaboration with The Parks Trust

Vseteckova J (2019) Five Pillars for Ageing Well  

Vseteckova J et al (2020) COVID-19 The effects of self-isolation and lack of physical activity on carers

Vseteckova J (2019) Depression, mood and exercise

Methley A & Vseteckova J & Jones K (2020) Green & Blue & Outdoor spaces

Vseteckova J (2020) Ageing Brain

Vseteckova J (2020) Walking the Parks with The OU and The Parks Trust

Vseteckova J, Dadova K, Gracia R, Ryan G, Borgstrom E, Abington J, Deepak - Gopinath M, Pappas Y (2020) Barriers and facilitators to adherence to walking group exercise in older people living with dementia in the community: a systematic review. Accepted by European Review of Aging and Physical Activity. ERAP-D-20-00011R2

Vseteckova J, Deepak-Gopinat M, Erica Borgstrom E, Holland C, Draper J, Pappas Y, McKeown E, Dadova K and Gray S (2018) Barriers and facilitators to adherence to group exercise in institutionalised older people living with dementia: a systematic review (in press) DOI : 10.1186/s11556-018-0200-3

Horne J, Kentzer N, Smith L, Trott M, Vseteckova J (2020) A systematic review on the prevalence of physical activity, and barriers and facilitators to physical activity, in informal carers in the UK. (Accepted by Journal of Physical Activity & Health JPAH.2020-0526.R1)

Vseteckova J, Horne J, Smith L, Trott M and Kentzer N (2020) Protocol: A systematic review on the prevalence of physical activity in informal / unpaid carers worldwide.  Prospero - International Prospective register of Systematic Reviews                             

Vseteckova J, Horne J, Smith L, Trott M and Kentzer N (2020) Protocol: A systematic review on the barriers and facilitators to physical activity in informal / unpaid carers worldwide. Registered with  Prospero - International Prospective register of Systematic Reviews  CRD42020184196     

Vseteckova J, Methley A, Jones K (2020) Protocol: A systematic review on use of green spaces in supporting recovery from trauma in older people living in community in the UK. Prospero - International Prospective register of Systematic Reviews  CRD42020183058

Horne J, Kentzer N, Smith L, Trott M, Abington J, Vseteckova J (2020) Participation in group outings, gender related profiling and preferences of outings for carers of individuals living with dementia: Systematic Review Protocol. Prospero - International Prospective Register of Systematic reviews CRD42020193532 


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