Thursday, June 20, 2024

$1.7m nature-based dementia respite project launched

GreenConnect Dementia Respite – a new, trailblazing program in the Loddon-Mallee region that uses the power of nature to help people with dementia – was officially launched in Bendigo today.

The program aims to provide innovative respite outside of aged care facilities and addresses the urgent need for better support plans for fatigued carers.

Backed by funding of $1.7 million from the Australian Government, the three-year, not-for-profit GreenConnect project was launched at the Atisha Buddhist Centre in Bendigo where a unique garden was unveiled, purpose-designed for people with dementia – thought to be a first in Australia.

A new online platform for the project has also been launched – www.greenconnect.org.au – a microsite which will provide information and news about the GreenConnect project and allow people to register for upcoming activities and events.

The new ‘Jin Lap’, garden-to-fork garden at the Atisha Centre, where GreenConnect has also started holding calm-inducing, nature-based activities for those with dementia and their carers, is a collaborative effort between GreenConnect, WISE Employment, and the Atisha Centre which aims to bridge the gap between garden and fork, nurturing not just plants but also the lives of those involved.

GreenConnect Project Manager and President of the Heathcote Dementia Alliance, Sandra Slatter said GreenConnect was tasked to enhance quality of life for people with dementia and their carers in the Loddon-Mallee region through immersion in natural environments, nature-based experiences and short-break accommodation, all within purposely crafted, dementia-inclusive environments.

“Our mission is to help those with dementia and their carers live in the now and experience the joys of life each day,” Ms Slatter said at the Bendigo launch.

“We’ve already achieved early success with numerous trips to dementia-inclusive gardens, bush reserves, wineries, outdoor festivals and overnight retreats in the Bendigo and Mildura regions, with the aim of improving quality of life for those with dementia and lessening the impact of support for carers.

“Being in nature enhances wellbeing and relaxation, rekindles memories, ignites the senses and lessens confusion and agitation. Inspired carers, experiencing the results first-hand, have already started copying our tactics by taking someone with dementia in their care into leafier environments for mutual benefit.”

Ms Slatter said GreenConnect would continue to work on the special garden at the Atisha Centre, thought to be the first garden in Australia purpose-designed for people with dementia.

As part of GreenConnect’s new ‘Gardens that Care’ project, the special garden at the Atisha Centre in Bendigo will feature herb, vegetables and fruit  ‘garden-to-fork’ plots that will help create calm and purpose for those with dementia, she said.

“The new garden we have designed at Atisha will see participants plant seeds, nurture plants, harvest vegetables and cook and share the food with others.”

“Being busy and  productive in a calming environment outdoors is extremely beneficial to someone with dementia.” 

Another sensory-based ‘Garden of Memories’ would be created in Heathcote, she said, with aromas, colours, textures, sounds and movements to aid healing and meditation spaces to help still the mind.

Ms Slatter said a prime aim of GreenConnect was addressing the “massive and urgent” need for better care for carers themselves.

“Carers get exhausted and have been overlooked and we believe the Government can do more to help them, so GreenConnect is piloting affordable and accessible nature-inspired initiatives that calm those with dementia but also relieve impacts for carers,” Ms Slatter said.

“Another need we have highlighted is the importance of including diverse groups such as First Nations, LGBTQIA+ and culturally and linguistically diverse communities in dementia respite programs so that will be an ongoing focus for us as well.”

Ms Slatter said La Trobe University researchers would evaluate the social and economic impact of the GreenConnect project and the potential to roll out the innovative model of care across other sectors such as disability, mental health and palliative care.

GreenConnect will run until June, 2026 and is being spearheaded by a consortium of like-minded organisations comprising Princes Court Aged Care in Mildura, Heathcote Health, Heathcote Dementia Alliance, the John Richards Centre for Rural Ageing Research at La Trobe University, and Rural Care Australia.

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