Dementia respite project launched in Bendigo

April 19, 2024 BY

Dementia respite: A new nature-based respite project for people with dementia has been launched in Bendigo. Photo: SUPPLIED

A NEW program aimed at using the power of nature to help people with dementia has begun in the Loddon-Mallee region.

GreenConnect Dementia Respite – a three-year, not-for-profit project – was launched at the Atisha Buddhist Centre in Bendigo last week and aims to provide innovative respite outside of aged care facilities and address a need for better support for carers.

Backed by $1.7 million of federal government funding, the GreenConnect program features a unique garden which has been purpose-designed for people with dementia – thought to be a first in Australia.

Dementia respite: Dot Poynton, who has dementia, will benefit from the new GreenConnect dementia respite project. Photo: SUPPLIED


An online platform – greenconnect.org.au – has also been launched to provide information and news about the project and allow people to register for activities and events.

The new ‘Jin Lap’ 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.

Its purpose is to bridge the gap between garden and fork, nurturing not just plants but also the lives of those involved.

Dementia respite: The new garden at the Atisha Centre in Bendigo is part of the GreenConnect dementia respite project. Photo: SUPPLIED


GreenConnect project manager and president of the Heathcote Dementia Alliance, Sandra Slatter, said GreenConnect was designed 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.

“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.”

Ms Slatter said the garden at the Atisha Centre was thought to be the first in Australia designed specifically for people with dementia.

“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,” she said.

Dementia respite: Kevin Aspinall, who has dementia, will be among those who will benefit from the new GreenConnect dementia respite project. Photo: SUPPLIED


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

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

La Trobe University researchers will evaluate the social and economic impact of the project, along with the potential to roll out this 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 consisting of 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.