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Leitrim older residents blossom with local children

Pupil and resident bond at the Leitrim nursing unit

Pupil and resident bond at the Leitrim nursing unit

There’s nothing like the company of children to keep you young. It was with that in mind that the Blossom Together programme began to take roots in a community hospital in Co Leitrim.

The intergenerational project came about following observations of the joy that visiting children brought to the residents, many suffering with dementia, explained Sharon Richardson, Senior Occupational Therapist in St Patrick's Community Hospital in Carrick-on-Shannon.

“There was always an atmosphere of fun and laughter created by having younger visitors around. Within our community hospital, we are very keen for our residents to feel that they remain an active part of the community.”

Sharon explained that they made contact with Breffni Childcare, a facility locally.

“They were delighted to take part, suggesting the preschool group of four-year-olds. The children’s parents were in full support of the project. The name of the group came about from using the name of our hospital dog to outline what we wanted to achieve from the group,” she said.

In preparation, an activity programme was collated prior to the children starting that facilitated the interaction and participation of the children with the residents.

“We completed a full cycle of the programme, with the group attending for 18 sessions. We are now into our second cycle, with a new set of children starting in September.”

The sessions are held on a fortnightly basis on a Tuesday afternoon from 2pm to 3pm.

“Everyone involved in the group absolutely loves it. It was great to see the residents becoming more verbal and more animated when communicating with the children. The residents and staff really looked forward to the children coming. Throughout the period of the group, it was also great to see the children become more confident in their interactions with the residents and watching friendships blossom,” she said.

Olivia Furey Nolan, the occupational therapy assistant, who facilitates the sessions, said they held a teddy bear’s picnic to start off.

“This is a great one for the first week as the children bring their own teddies and we have some for the residents. It’s a great way to get conversations going. Then we had show and tell, Halloween decorations, Halloween party/games and dress up, on the farm, hand painting, Christmas decorations, dough sculpting, decorating flower pots, planting bulbs, physical activities, St Patrick’s day crafts, marble painting, Easter crafts, planting in the sensory garden, free play, garden party and finally, on the last day, we have a sports day when the ice-cream van also comes.”

Nancy, one of the residents, said she got so much out of the sessions with the pre-schoolers.

“I loved the crafts made with the children. I never thought I'd be back to my young days,” she said.

Annie, another resident, said they were ‘the grandest little children’, while Tommy added that they were always ‘full of beans’.

Olivia said the resident's faces ‘light up’ when they see the children coming in.

“The children’s visits bring different faces, different conversation, different noise to the room. Our residents wouldn't see very many children apart from the Blossom together group and they love it.” 

“It is definitely something that they look forward to. Once I say the little children are coming in, they start talking about them.”

She said there have been so many highlights from the initiative and she would recommend it for all older person care settings.

“Apart from seeing the children forming a wonderful bond with the residents, the highlight for me was the successful completion of the first year and I am delighted to have just started the second year of Blossom Together.”

Amy Colquhoun from Breffni Childcare said there was so much that the children get from each visit.

“The children get a great experience of coming to a new place and being out of there comfort zone to mix and work with many different people. They are excited the moment they step onto the bus for their journey up and are running in the door to talk to everyone and tell them all their new stories they have,” she said.

“They love sitting down with the residents doing art and helping them to do the small pieces of art that they are doing. The children also love to go and visit other residents in the wards and sing them lots of songs.”

She said the highlight of this journey for her has been able to see how much joy and happiness the children bring to the residents of St Patrick’s.

“They smile and laugh with them the whole time they are visiting. Even when some of the residents do not want to paint they still love to sit beside the children and watch them play or paint,” said Amy. 

“I think the Blossom Together visits are a great idea as they bring so much joy to many different people. I would recommend this to other childcare facilities because it shows such care and love. This journey shows no matter what age you are, everyone can enjoy the same things.”

During the holiday season, it’s often the simple gestures that are appreciated the most.
One of the most important actions you can take to support those living with dementia and their families is by asking a simple question: How can I help? For practical advice on supporting people living with dementia in your community, visit www.understandtogether.ie.