Treehouse4Two: retreat for dementia couples

August 17th, 2023Treehouse4Two: retreat for dementia couples

A diagnosis of dementia can be incredibly upsetting, and unfortunately the incidence of this lethal disease is rising across Macedon Ranges and Hepburn Shires.
Treehouse4Two Retreat coordinator Paula Weekley, Central Highlands Rural Health executive director Phil Catterson and Treehouse program and social support manager Dora Mansbridge.

Words and Images: Eve Lamb

A diagnosis of dementia can be incredibly upsetting, and unfortunately the incidence of this lethal disease is rising across Macedon Ranges and Hepburn Shires.

However, some good news is that last week saw the local launch of a new federally-funded, free, three-day retreat offering people with dementia and their carers a valuable new source of respite and support.

Last Monday’s launch of the new three day (two night) Treehouse4Two retreat program follows Central Highlands Rural Health’s successfully securing $1.3 million in federal funding to make it happen.

They will now begin offering the new retreats in both the Hepburn and Macedon Ranges shires.

Launched at the Macedon Ranges Hotel and Spa, the retreats are designed to provide essential support, education and resources to navigate the difficult journey through dementia.

The specialised retreats are funded as an ongoing series through to mid 2026, and will take place in quality scenic local accommodation venues – with plenty of good food on the menu and an enjoyable “holiday vibe” as key aspects.

The first of the retreats are happening from this week with an initial intake of five couples attending.

Beyond this week’s, the retreats are then expected to accommodate six couples per retreat with all costs covered for participants.

“Sadly, there is quite an increase in dementia in both Hepburn and Macedon Ranges shires,” CHRH executive director Phil Catterson said.

According to a 2022 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report, 517 people were living with dementia in the Macedon Ranges Shire, of which 204 were males, and 314 were female. In Hepburn Shire, there were 389 people living with dementia, with 240 females and 149 males diagnosed.

The Treehouse4Two retreat program builds on CHRH’s existing Treehouse program which, for the past five years, has been supporting people living at home with dementia.

“We have had Treehouse for over five years now and it has been a great thing for us to understand how important respite is for people who have dementia,” Mr Catterson said.

“If you are given a diagnosis and it’s happening to you, it scares the heebie jeebies out of you and you don’t know how to react.”

CHRH Treehouse and Social Support manager Dora Mansbridge has an extensive nursing background, including in palliative care, and will be a leader for the new retreats that are based on a similar successful program run by Sydney’s Hammond Care.

“There’s a stigma that comes with having a dementia diagnosis,” Dora says.

“But dementia is not the end of the conversation. It’s the start.”

Knowing where to turn and how to begin managing and coping following a new diagnosis can be challenging and the new retreat program will especially aim to help those contending with a recent diagnosis.

Dora says couples who attend the retreats will enjoy time out to relax in a beautiful safe location.

But while it will feel like “a holiday” a skilled team of health and support care professionals will use the time to meaningfully engage with those who have the diagnosis and to provide their carers with skills and knowledge needed.

“Our aim is to provide essential support, education and resources to help people navigate this journey. It’s a tough gig – 24/7,” Dora said.

Sharing the load is a main aim and friendships and other valuable support contacts are expected to result.

“It’s going to feel a little like an extended family,” said Treehouse4Two Retreat Coordinator Paula Weekley.

Paula says the retreats’ outcomes will be closely watched with the hope of seeing them gain funding to continue beyond the initial four years.

Following this week’s very first Treehouse4Two retreat, three more will be held this year – in September, October and November, with ten then scheduled for each of 2024 and 2025, and six scheduled for 2026.

Hepburn Shire resident and carer Chris Ling and CHRH Treehouse program and social support manager Dora Mansbridge

Among those keenly looking forward to attending one coming up soon is Hepburn Shire same-sex couple Chris Ling and Lewis Short, and Chris attended Monday’s launch.

“Lewis was diagnosed in 2016 and we have already been using the Treehouse program in Trentham,” Chris said.

The (pre-existing) Treehouse program is also offered at Kyneton and is now being launched at Daylesford with plans to make it available at Clunes into the future.

“With the retreat, I am looking forward to being with other carers and I’d like Lewis to be comfortable in a different place other than at home,” Chris says.

“For him it’s a chance to be with other people besides me and that will hopefully be a break for us from our normal routine.”

Dora says that additional suitable safe and scenic accommodation venues across Hepburn and Macedon Ranges shires are being sought as potential sites to hold the retreats.

More information about the Treehouse4Two retreat program is available through Central Highlands Rural Health.

More Articles

Back to top