By Lin Sue Flood
At first glance, it looks like “Grandparents’ Day” at preschool — a roomful of giggling seniors playing peekaboo with a dozen adorable toddlers.
Except these “grandmas and grandpas” aren’t related to the kiddos. No matter. They love each other just the same.
Welcome to a one-of-a-kind Intergenerational Enrichment Program, where people living with dementia enjoy activities, social engagement, and the excitement of interacting with young kids.
Located at Hospice of the Valley’s new Dementia Care and Education Campus, the Adult Day Club and adjoining Child Center help both generations flourish. The grown-ups are energized by the youngsters’ carefree exuberance. The children are treated to cuddles every time they climb into a soft lap for a movie, story, or song.
“Just to hear the joyful sounds of kids playing and laughing is uplifting,” says Michelle Bales, Adult Day and Intergenerational Program manager. “Sometimes we play games, sometimes we share a snack, we dance, we laugh and most of all, we appreciate what makes each of us unique. Every day we encourage connection and watch the magic happen as organic moments of joy are created.”
Numerous studies show that intergenerational programs enhance quality of life. Adults experience a more positive outlook, decreased social isolation, and improved cognitive function and overall quality of life. Children gain self-esteem, self-confidence, and learn to make new friends. Both age groups feel valued, safe, and cared for.
“This is the best thing that could have ever happened to me,” says Judy Wind, a member of the Adult Day Club. “I love kids and these kids just keep you alive. When I found this place, I knew I was home. I just love coming here!”
A wide array of activities ensures everyone has a great time — from art to dance, exercise, gardening, story time, movies, singing, surprising guests like a musical cowboy on a horse, petting zoo animals, and visits from therapy pets, including a miniature cow! The goal is to stimulate the senses and create joy.
An added benefit is the friendship that develops as the children and adults bond with one another. When 3-year-old Jack was planning his birthday party, the first person on his invite list was his sweet 74-year-old pal, Susan, from the Adult Day Club.
Family members like Pat McKenna can take a break from caregiving knowing their loved ones with dementia are thriving in a culture of fun. “My husband has always loved children, and this is an opportunity to spend time with them, sometimes on a one-on-one basis. The kids get a lot out of it as well. It’s just a win-win.”
The Intergeneration Enrichment Program at The Campus is also teaching youngsters that dementia is nothing to be feared. It’s empowering families who didn’t realize there was a place to turn for support. And it’s inspiring the community to learn more about this challenging disease and how to enhance quality of life as dementia progresses.
“Life doesn’t stop because someone has dementia. It changes,” says Dr. Gillian Hamilton, Hospice of the Valley medical director. “With understanding and compassion, we believe it’s possible to still find meaning, purpose, connection, and joy in living.”
The Dementia Care and Education Campus is at 3811 N. 44th St., Phoenix. In addition to the Intergenerational Enrichment Program, there are free support groups, educational classes for the community and dementia resources. For more information, visit dementiacampus.org.