Here at Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation, dedicated staff and volunteers provide opportunities for people of all ages to get outside and enjoy their parks. One of my favorite programs TMPF offers supports Reno’s senior community. The weekly Idlewild Health Walks are designed to provide people living with dementia a safe space to be outside, learn about the local ecology, and a chance to socialize with peers. The walks are a great tool for seniors battling with Alzheimer's and their care partners to utilize. Through socialization and studying plants as they change over the seasons, participants are exposed to the mental and physical health benefits of enjoying the outdoors.
In natural science we have a word for tracking change over time: phenology.
On our health walks, we stop at the same locations and look for evidence of seasonal change. For example, the trees are beginning to show leaf buds- a harbinger of spring. When we notice changes, we record them in our phenology book and take photos to refer back to in the future. Looking for phenological change helps to keep the mind sharp, which is important to our participants.
Building community and supporting mental health are the major goals of the Idlewild Health Walks. Living with dementia or caring for someone who is can be difficult. Our partners at Sanford Center for Aging believe you need to meet people where they are, which is something we strive to do at health walks. Our returning participants have built an excellent community. We chat while we walk and the conversations are always interesting. Whether we stop to look at budding trees on the river or just walk and talk, it’s good for everyone. One risk of aging with dementia is isolation. At the Idlewild Health Walks, no one is alone. Health walks help those suffering to avoid isolation by bringing people with similar challenges together and also provide a safe space for whatever conversations participants need to have, thus supporting their mental health.
Idlewild Park during mid-day (left to right: spring, summer, fall, winter)
In addition to mental health, Idlewild Health Walks support physical health for everyone involved. Walking is low-impact exercise and our phenology stops provide ample opportunity for those who need to rest. We take turns pushing a wheelchair for anyone who needs longer breaks than the phenology points afford. This is no walk on a treadmill in a closed room. The walks provide a beautiful landscape and tons of fresh air. Especially as our bodies age, it is important to care for ourselves. A walk in the park fosters that well-being.
Idlewild Health Walks are a holistic experience. Being outside in the park with the community fosters physical and mental health benefits and allows us to learn about our natural world through phenology. While the walks are designed for people living with dementia and their care partners, we welcome volunteers. If you’d like to join us, we meet every Tuesday at 10:00am at the TMPF office in Idlewild Park. Contact us or Sanford Center for Aging for more information on volunteering or participating. No matter your age, a walk in the park is beneficial for everyone!