Princes Court

Nurturing meaningful connections for those with dementia and their carers

Nurturing meaningful connections for those with dementia and their carers

HEALING POWER OF NATURE – COMBATING DEMENTIA

In 2024, it is estimated that more than 421,000 Australians live with dementia. Without a medical breakthrough, by 2054, the number of people with dementia is expected to balloon to more than 812,500. Dementia is the leading cause of death for Australian women and the second leading cause of death of all Australians. Provisional data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and Dementia Australia suggests dementia will soon be the leading cause of death overall.

The figures can be daunting but a new, groundbreaking program in the Loddon-Mallee region that uses the power of nature as respite for people with early-stage dementia and their carers has already achieved remarkable success in combatting the effects of the disease and improving quality of life. Nature-based experiences have a calming effect, reducing anxiety and agitation, promoting social connections, and bringing more joy, happiness, and tranquillity into the lives of people with dementia, their carers, families, and friends.

Backed by funding of $1.7m from the Australian Government and commencing a year ago in the Sunraysia and Bendigo regions, GreenConnect Dementia Respite is a not-for-profit project that harnesses the healing powers of nature to provide innovative respite outside of aged care facilities and addresses the urgent need for better support plans for fatigued carers.

An online platform for the three-year pilot project was launched in April this year, designed to invite and inspire more people in the Loddon-Mallee areas to join the program’s activities and events.

GreenConnect Project Manager, Sandra Slatter, said a string of nature-based stays, bushwalks, overnight retreats and visits to dementia-inclusive gardens, attractions, wineries, orchards, and festivals had already been organised in the Mildura region with many more planned soon, to gauge their effect. Gardens purpose-designed for people with dementia were also being created.

“The feedback from these excursions has been overwhelmingly positive,” Sandra said.

“People with dementia and their carers have enjoyed quality and therapeutic time outdoors.

“Our mission is to help those with dementia and their carers live in the now and experience the joys of life each day.

“We want to improve quality of life for those with dementia and lighten the workload for carers. Being in nature enhances wellbeing and relaxation, rekindles memories, ignites the senses, and lessens confusion and agitation. A nature experience can also increase self-worth and autonomy, both of which a dementia diagnosis can impact.”

Recently appointed coordinator of the Mildura GreenConnect project, Kaye Matthews, says her drive is to nurture meaningful connections for those with dementia and their carers.

 “A diagnosis of dementia changes things but life goes on.

“What we are aiming to do is make the world more accessible and amiable for those with dementia, with wonderful excursions and experiences already completed and more planned. We hope more people in the Sunraysia area can take advantage of these nature-based activities to enhance connectivity and friendship.”

Kaye said recent events GreenConnect organised in the Sunraysia region included visits to Benetook Farm, the Australian Inland Botanic Gardens, Dinner Under the Vines in Irymple, a horse therapy farm, Fossey’s Distillery, Woodies Gem Shop, the Riverfront Art Gallery, the Garden of Hope in Cabarita and other local cafes and accommodation properties.

A partner of the project is Princes Court Mildura and Chief Executive, Anthony Couroupis, said the key aim of GreenConnect was to keep those with dementia at home with their loved ones for as long as possible.

“A respite facility like ours is always here for those who need it, but GreenConnect has shown that those with dementia can thrive, and their carers can enjoy time out through the magic of nature and connection and that’s why Princes Court is right behind this pivotal project.

“This project also beautifully demonstrates how the community can work in partnership for those in need.”

GreenConnect Dementia Respite is led by a consortium of like-minded organisations including Princes Court Mildura, Heathcote Health, Heathcote Dementia Alliance, Rural Care Australia and the John Richards Centre for Rural Ageing Research at La Trobe University, which will evaluate the social and economic impact of this project and the potential to roll out the model of care across other sectors such as disability, mental health and palliative care.

The project will run until June 2026. For more information www.greenconnect.org.au or email info@greenconnect.org.au

This article was recently published in the Mildura Living Magazine.