Older people, and particularly older people with dementia, can become disconnected from walking and from their local area, both by physical impairments and frailty, and by the things that are done to care for and protect them. When people have lost the walking habit, talking about previous experiences of walking can build enthusiasm and motivation. Walking reminiscence can have value for people who do not have dementia or memory problems, as well as those who do.
By “walking reminiscence”, we mean a sit-down session where a leader encourages a group of, usually older, people to share memories of the role that walking has had in their lives. At Living Streets, we sometimes use this as a ‘warm-up’ session to get a group of people enthused about a reminiscence walk, which is where we go for a local walk and use local history and reminiscence as prompts to talk while we walk. Find out more about that on our Reminiscence Walks guide.
Reminiscence as an activity is a powerful way to unlock not only memories, but people’s feelings of competence and self-esteem, which can be very fragile when living with dementia. Reminiscence can be a way for people to connect with one another through shared experiences, and its benefits often extend beyond the activity itself, leaving participants more alert and oriented for some time afterwards.
There are excellent guides to reminiscence available, including from the Social Care Institute for Excellence talks, and Gloucester Council's guide to running group reminiscence sessions (on any topic).
Questions: Did you walk to school? All the way, or just to and from the bus? Who did you walk with? How long did it take? Was it through the streets, or across fields? What did you talk about with family or friends as you walked? Were there ever times you were distracted and didn’t quite make it to school on time?
Materials: Photographs of local schools, or generic schools from an appropriate time and location, school shoes, school bags, recordings of songs or playground games.
Questions: Where was your first job? Did you walk there, or to/ from the bus? What time – did you work shifts? Was it the part of town you lived in, or were you somewhere new to you?
Materials: Photos of workers at the factory gates, work boots or “office shoes”, pictures of big local employers.
Questions: Where is your favourite ever place to walk? The seaside, woodland, by the river, the mountains? Or somewhere in town?
Materials: Walking boots, outdoor coats, pictures of local beauty spots, picnic rug, map, recordings of birdsong or river sounds.
If you are going to be facilitating a reminiscence session, you will know your participants best.
Are they local to the area you’re in? Sourcing some photographs of local streets may prompt shared memories and experiences. For groups who hail from different areas, more diverse images or more “universal” objects might be useful.
What is the range of ages? If you’re going to talk about the walk to school, using images or objects like school shoes and schoolbags, think about whether they are from the time your participants were at school, or their children were at school.
What might prevent people interacting with the reminiscence prompts, or with the discussion? If there are visually impaired people in the group, you will need things other than just photographs – having objects to touch and smell, or recordings to listen to, can enrich the experience for everyone.
Many local museums or local history groups have reminiscence boxes that you can borrow, full of objects that might stir memories. We have yet to find one specifically about walking, but “schooldays” or “public transport” or “the workplace” may be themes that offer a way into the discussion.
There are online resources from the same sorts of places – local photographs and maps can be downloaded, though always make sure you have the correct permission to use them. Edinburgh’s Living Memory Association has a collection of podcasts with locals sharing memories on various topics, and you may find others available through similar organisations.