Sunday 16 December 2018
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Toddlers help 'light up' faces of care home residents

The Grand Old Duke of York" rarely segues into "It's a long way to Tipperary" at parent and toddler groups.

But at a nursing home in Cardiff, residents are passing on some of their favourites to the next generation.

"I enjoy it immensely," says 103-year old Daniel Rosewell. "It brings back happy memories, from a long time ago."

He is just one of many older people in care homes in Wales whose well-being could be improved by such initiatives.

Stephen Burke, director of think-tank United for All Ages, says inviting toddler groups into care homes helps tackle loneliness and isolation and gives people a meaningful purpose.

"It brings all sorts of stuff out of people. Memories are triggered and it helps build up strength, with people perhaps walking more. It also just brings sheer joy and happiness, which is not to be underestimated," he said.

"Care homes can be very isolating institutions."

Loneliness impacts one in five people in Wales, according to the Welsh Government, which is committed to preventing the issue.

There is growing evidence that so-called 'intergenerational initiatives' can improve people's well-being.
Our older and younger generations have a huge amount to offer each other, through learning from one another and having fun together, sharing knowledge and experiences and providing each other with support," Heléna Herklots, Older People's Commissioner for Wales says.

"It is therefore vital that more older and younger people throughout Wales have opportunities to spend time together and take part in intergenerational activities."

Feel-good

At Ty Llandaff in Cardiff. residents sing and help to wave a giant parachute as the children jump around underneath. Some clap and wave.

Melissa Lockwood from Acorns 'n' Oaks, the organisation behind the sessions, says the sessions can make a positive difference for parents and toddlers.

"It's got a real feel-good factor about it and can even help mothers with post-natal depression."

The organisation already has 23 branches across the UK, many in and around Bristol, and three in Wales.

Other initiatives are sprouting up across Wales, with established groups running "pop-up" sessions in nursing homes and lunch groups.

Jo Weaver runs Musical Minis sessions at a nursing home in Dinas Powys in the Vale of Glamorgan.

"It's lovely watching the residents' faces light up. The toddlers aren't fazed at all - they happily talk to the residents," she said.

'It all makes sense'

Professor Bob Woods of the Dementia Services Development Centre at Bangor University has researched the impact of the scheme on older dementia sufferers.

"They see the same people all day every day... but with small children it makes sense. This gives them something to talk about," he said.

"The results were immediately evident. Where they might have been inactive before, they suddenly engaged and responded.

Amee Jones and Angharad Brown, mothers of 16-month old Freddie and Henry, want their children to spend time with the older generation.

"My grandparents aren't here any more unfortunately so I wanted him to have that nice experience with the older residents. It's quite clear that they really, really enjoy it too," Amee said.

Sara Giwa-Amu, mother to two-year-old Alice, says it's about "all the really little simple things".

"Little hands holding big hands, just a bit of basic physical contact and how much you can see that means to that person," she said. "They think they might never hold a baby again."

After a few more nursery rhymes and an energetic rendition of marching song "Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag", the children and residents at Ty Llandaff share a snack and play together.

"The residents just come to life and do things they haven't done in a long time." says activities coordinator Melanie Geoghegan. "There's a lighter mood in the home for the rest of the day."