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An increasing amount of care homes are recognising how beneficial it is for their residents to spend time with young children. We look at how this is being done…

An 82-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s called Dorothy, who struggles to speak, starts cuddling a little toddler. Suddenly, where before her speech was slow and made little sense, she now starts speaking clearly and in full sentences.

The effect seems miraculous, but it is very common. And it’s an effect that care homes and day centres can appreciate, and many are taking advantage of it, by organising children’s or family days within the homes.

However, in the case of Dorothy, her experience was triggered by something altogether more ground-breaking. Dorothy is a resident at the ‘The Mount’ care home in Seattle in the United States. It is a residential care home and children’s day care centre in one, and it was the subject of a very moving 2015 documentary called Present Perfect, which looked at the effect of bringing together two seemingly different generations to spend time together.

In the UK, many care homes invite groups of children into the home to spend time with their residents and what’s clear is that this intergenerational interaction between children and the elderly, particularly those with dementia, doesn’t just boost mood and engagement, it can help to reconnect them with the present.

In the Admiral Court care home in Leigh, Essex, childminder Maria Atkinson has been taking some of the children she cares for into the home since October.

‘It’s fantastic to see the look on the residents’ faces when we come in now, some of them even cheer,’ says Maria. ‘Even though they have dementia some of them recognise the children and the children are getting to know them now and go straight over to them and start talking to them about whatever they were talking about the last time we were there.’

The Lifestyles Lead Manager at Admiral Court agrees.

‘Not only does Maria and the children’s involvement in our home provide great benefits to our residents’ well-being, their involvement in our home helps dispel misconceptions about life in residential care,’ says Sarah Savidge.

‘The relationships forming between the children in her care and the residents in ours is priceless. Maria and the children have breathed new life into our home. A visible weight is lifted from residents living with dementia. Maria and the children bring joy, love and laughter to so many lives.’

The benefits, it seems stem from both groups finding happiness and togetherness by being in the present. A three-year-old child can’t remember what happened last month, and neither can someone with dementia, so they take joy in the here and now.

What’s more, many people with dementia are parents themselves, and spending time with very young children taps into old memories of when they were parents. It’s also what makes doll therapy particularly effective.

What seems clear is that as well boosting mood, encouraging the two groups to interact is a vital part of creating a more dementia-aware and dementia-friendly generation.

Watch a trailer for Present Perfect below.

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