A unique initiative that helps people with dementia – and their families – benefit from time spent outdoors has been launched in the Scottish Highlands.

The charity Alzheimer Scotland is working with partners in Cairngorms National Park to offer a range of activities aimed at easing stress and anxiety among patients and carers.

Woodlands walks, wildlife surveys and wood carving are among the pursuits successfully trialled in a pilot scheme backed by the local action group, Cairngorms Trust.

Now, with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the scheme has been made permanent with the opening of the UK’s first Outdoor Dementia Resource Centre.

The facility at Badaguish Outdoor Centre, Aviemore, gives people with dementia and their carers a chance to meet up in a change of environment and have fun together.

Carers who attended the pilot group reported that their loved ones are more relaxed and in a better mood for the rest of the day after the outdoor sessions.

Jan, whose partner Donnie attended the taster sessions, has welcomed the funding: “The team made each session so interesting. These special days out have been very much missed in the past few months and Donnie is looking forward to them becoming a regular date again.”

Project leaders say spending time outdoors not only improves mental and physical health, but also provides opportunities to learn new skills and hobbies, or rediscover old ones.

Henry Simmons, Chief Executive of Alzheimer Scotland, believes that access to the outdoors can have a transforming effect on people living with dementia and their carers

“People living with dementia can be at risk of becoming socially isolated,” says Mr Simmons, “and, as a result, they can develop something of an indoor lifestyle – but being outdoors can change everything.” Martyn Crawshaw, Chairman of Speyside Trust, which runs Badaguish, has been impressed with Alzheimer Scotland’s far-sighted use of the Glenmore forest area.

“Badaguish has helped people enjoy the outdoors for over three decades,” reflects Mr Crawshaw, “so we are pleased the new centre will allow another group to gain the ‘green health’ benefits of the local environment.” Grant Moir, CEO of Cairngorms National Park Authority, says creating a place where people and nature can thrive together, will benefit health and wellbeing of local residents and visitors.

“With our ageing population, activities that mitigate the debilitating impacts of dementia will be vital,” says Mr Moir. “and this project will create a centre of excellence for outdoor focused dementia activities.”