“It Is Part of Belonging”: Walking Groups to Promote Social Health amongst People Living with Dementia

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

“It Is Part of Belonging”: Walking Groups to Promote Social Health amongst People Living with Dementia


  • Jane M. Robertson Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Stirling, UK
  • Grant Gibson Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Stirling, UK
  • Catherine Pemble Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Stirling, UK
  • Rog Harrison Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Stirling, UK
  • Kim Strachan Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Stirling, UK
  • Sheila Thorburn Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Stirling, UK


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Abstract:  People with dementia often report experiencing a ‘shrinking world’ connected with reduced opportunities to access physical and social spaces. This article applies the framework of social health (Dröes et al., 2017; Huber et al., 2011) as a theoretical lens through which to consider how inclusive walking groups can facilitate access to places and spaces to support people with dementia to remain connected in their communities. Findings are reported from walking interviews and focus group discussions with people with dementia, family carers, volunteers and walk leaders who participated in a national programme of dementia-friendly walking groups in Scotland. Thematic analysis of the data demonstrates that participation has a positive impact on social health, supporting people living with dementia to fulfil their potential, to engage in meaningful activity and to manage both their condition and their wider lives. Benefits include providing a context for continuing social participation and relationships for people with dementia and family carers. Additionally, groups provide a safe space where people with dementia can walk with autonomy and help to reinforce a sense of capacity and agency. Wider implications include the role of walking groups in fostering interdependencies between people with dementia and their wider communities by promoting an enabling ethos of dementia ‘inclusiveness.’ The benefits of developing an inclusive and supportive approach to involving people living with dementia in walking groups could extend more broadly to the wider community, with such initiatives acting as a catalyst for growing levels of social participation.

Keywords:  dementia; community; environment; inclusion; outdoors; social health; walking

Published:   31 July 2020


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v8i3.2784


© Jane M. Robertson, Grant Gibson, Catherine Pemble, Rog Harrison, Kim Strachan, Sheila Thorburn. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.