Staying connected through walking: Bernie's story

May 2024

Getting outside and staying active through walking became a lifeline for Bernie as he felt increasingly isolated by his caring responsibilities and his mental health started to suffer

Life became very difficult for 82-year-old Bernie when his wife of 58 years, Shirley, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and then dementia just eight months later. He was caring for Shirley, with support from his two daughters, and he was becoming increasingly isolated as Shirley’s mobility deteriorated.

“I was trying to encourage Shirley to keep walking and stay mobile, but the Parkinsons was causing her to slow down considerably,” says Bernie. “I was proper frustrated. I didn’t want to admit it to myself, but the pressures of my caring responsibilities were really tough and things were getting on top of me. I used to get really angry and say ‘Parkinsons is ruining our lives’. It got to the point where I started to say things like ‘roll on when they put me in a box.’ And that really wasn’t like me.”

Bernie’s oldest daughter became concerned about her dad’s mental health and they visited West Sussex Mind in Durrington together to try to get Bernie some support. Bernie began joining Communities in Mind’s over-65s ‘mindful walks’ and going to monthly meetings at Chesham House in Lancing.

Learning to take notice

Bernie has been out on several Communities in Mind mindful walks in different locations – Lancing Beach, Buckingham Park and Worthing seafront – and says that the walks have helped him take notice of his surroundings and provided a good distraction from his worries about Shirley’s ill health.

“I really enjoy the mindful walks and get a lot out of them,” says Bernie. “Through the volunteer walk leaders, I’ve learned how to take notice and enjoy the environment around me. And I share that experience with others in the group. We talk about the types of trees and plants, the flowers that are in season or the squirrels that are roaming around. We listen to the birds. We are looking and taking notice – and enjoying being in the moment. We aren’t thinking about why we are there in the first place.”

Bernie regularly goes out for Adur Health Walks organised by the council and tries to go out for a walk once a day. Once a week, he meets up with a friend who has had a stroke and is visually impaired, and they walk together with Bernie as his friend’s guide. He has an exercise bike at home (which he says he sometimes uses while watching TV!), and he also likes gardening to stay active and be outside: “gardening is another way of connecting with the outside world and with nature, and it’s quite therapeutic,” says Bernie.

“It’s so easy to sit in a chair and not get up as you get older. But in later life, it’s so important to stay active. I try to be as active as I can, while I can, because it helps to keep me connected to the world.”


The mindful walks have taught Bernie new skills and helped him look at life differently. “I used to see things, but I didn’t always notice,” says Bernie. “But the walks have helped me to look at things differently. They have helped to take my mind off what is going on with Shirley, but also to appreciate the world around me. Now if I see a garden with some beautiful flowers, I will stop and take a look. It’s wonderful to be outside and appreciate nature and the simple things in life.”

The group sessions run by Communities in Mind have also been helpful to Bernie, who says that it’s been great to be able to share his experiences with other people who understand. “The groups are quite small and there’s no pressure to talk,” says Bernie. “If you want to talk, you can, and if not, you just listen. I used to go in and spill the beans! It really helped me to get things off my chest.”

Staying active in later life

Bernie says that the last four years have been very difficult, but that he’s in a much better place mentally with the support he’s had from Communities in Mind and being able to remain active.

“I’ve had four years of not being terribly happy – and that’s not like me. I’m not that sort of person; I'm quite outgoing and I like having fun. But I’m much calmer now. I don’t flare up as often as I used to. I’m coping better, because I’m looking after myself and I have more outlets.”

For Bernie, walking and getting outside are an important part of self-care and help him stay well mentally. He concludes: “It’s so easy to sit in a chair and not get up as you get older. But in later life, it’s so important to stay active. I try to be as active as I can, while I can, because it helps to keep me connected to the world.”