Australia’s first dementia-friendly sensory trail turns one

Parks Victoria

Today is World Alzheimer’s Day, part of Dementia Action Week, which brings attention to the growing number of people in Australia either living with or caring for someone living with some form of cognitive decline.

It’s also just over a year since the opening of Parks Victoria’s award-winning Dementia Friendly Forest and Sensory Trail – the first of its kind in Australia.

Located in Woowookarung Regional Park on Wadawurrung Country, the trail is accessible for wheelchairs and carers, assistance dogs, and larger groups from care facilities.

Three bush walkers, two with assisted walking sticks, on a raised platform pathway surrounded by trees and young shrubs encased in protective plastic.
Large stones arranged in a semicircle around a large open area and surrounded by trees. Diverse people are sitting around on the stones conversing and laughing together. Pictured above left is an elevated section of the walking track and on the right the sitting area surrounded by bushland.

“Over the past year, we’ve seen lots of people experiencing different stages of dementia, along with their families and carers using Dementia Friendly Forest and Sensory Trail. There is growing awareness in the community that the trail is accessible and designed for visitors of all abilities,” says Siobhan Rogan, Area Chief Ranger Ballarat.

The 1.2km trail features sensory aspects and quiet places for reflection, to evoke positive memories, feelings and sensations. This offers visitors a new way to experience and enjoy nature in different ways, throughout their journey with dementia.

The trail was co-designed with people living with dementia and their carers, Ballarat community health groups, Department of Health and Dementia Australia.

The design also encourages people with dementia to take over the care of the park with their carers and Parks Victoria staff supporting them through required tasks, such as watering.

The end result is a gentle and inclusive way to see, smell, touch and hear nature.

“When you see groups of people returning again and again to the trail, you realise the importance of inclusive and accessible outdoor spaces. I couldn’t have imaged how much joy this is bringing to people from Ballarat, and all over Victoria,” says Siobhan.

A wide bush walking path surrounded by trees on one side and grassy shrubs on the others side. In the foreground and distance there are walkers walking away from us.
Two walkers walking towards us, one with an assistant dog and the other with a walking stick, both are woman aged fifty plus. It's a wide walking path surrounded by bushland.

Pictured above show the wide walking path for walkers of all abilities and assistive technologies.

The overall design won the 2022 ALIA Victoria Landscape Architecture Award’s Award for Health and Education Landscape – by Thomson Hay Landscape Architects.

Dementia affects close to half a million Australians. According to Dementia Australia, that number is set double in the next 25 years, with many experiencing younger onset dementia, when a person is diagnosed under the age of 65.

“We wanted to offer visitors an experience in nature that can be enjoyed in different ways, so you can choose the path that suits you. A beautiful picture in my mind, is the two older people I saw at the site sharing the experience of being close to nature and to one another, in that special way couples can. It’s why I’d love to see more spaces like this open across the state,” says Siobhan.

Thank you to Parks Victoria’s Supporting Partners for the Dementia Friendly Forest and Sensory Trail; CDC Victoria, CMV Truck & Bus and Volvo Bus Australia.

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