Pilot project immerses dementia patients in nature

Thursday, 07 March, 2024

Pilot project immerses dementia patients in nature

People with early stage dementia can now make use of a nature-based respite program in the Loddon–Mallee region.

The three-year GreenConnect Dementia Respite project offers patients — along with their carers — access to gardens, farms, walking tracks, outdoor events and overnight retreats, helping to improve quality of life.

It was announced in August 2023, with funding of $1.7 million from the Australian Government to improve respite services in the Loddon and Mallee regions of Victoria for people with dementia and their carers through immersion in natural environments and green spaces.

The GreenConnect Project Manager and President of the Heathcote Dementia Alliance, Sandra Slatter, said a string of nature-based stays, bushwalks and visits to dementia-inclusive gardens, attractions, wineries, orchards and festivals had already been organised in the Daylesford, Bendigo and Mildura regions — with many more planned soon.

“The feedback from these excursions has been overwhelmingly positive, with people with dementia and their carers enjoying quality and therapeutic time away and outdoors, with support provided by the wonderful volunteers from Care Friends,” she said.

Bendigo caregiver Pamela Aspinall, who looks after husband Kevin, 80, said they found a recent daytrip to a lavender farm at Daylesford very beneficial.

“Kevin was relaxed and really happy on the day and could wander around without supervision. He’s excited for the next trip too. I’m sleeping better at night now too.”

Kevin Aspinall. Image: Supplied.

Slatter said GreenConnect was appointing coordinators in Bendigo and Mildura to develop burden-easing care plans for caregivers.

“We’ve also attended important dementia conferences to learn and share information and experiences and have held focus group discussions for dementia caregivers in Bendigo and Mildura to gain their input on how to design a better model of care,” she said.

“Many caregivers reported exhaustion from looking after those with dementia and stressed the need for more, affordable and easily accessible respite programs and better-trained service operators to help relieve the pressure. Another need highlighted was the importance of including diverse groups such as First Nations, LGBTQIA+ and culturally diverse communities in respite programs, so that will be an ongoing focus for us as well.”

Slatter said the project was also an innovative way to demonstrate how the community could work in partnership to care for those in need.

“La Trobe University researchers will evaluate the social and economic impact of this project and the potential to roll out this model of care across other sectors such as disability, mental health and palliative care,” she said.

Top image credit: iStock.com/Marco VDM

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