"Shhhh!" My Grandma June looked at me fiercely, finger to her lips, ordering me to quiet my little ones. She seemed to think there was just too much noise and general liveliness going on at her assisted living facility that day. Never mind that televisions from adjoining rooms were creating a great deal more noise than my (reasonably) well behaved children, or that at least thirty smiles beamed at us as we walked through the eating area to Grandma's room. So I shushed them a little bit, reminding them that Grandma was extra cranky that day, but I smiled to myself on the inside. I mean, what's not to like about really cute kids full of life energy?
Granted, not everyone loves kids. And I completely understand that someone in a great deal of pain is not likely to want kids playing right next to (or on) them. Boundaries are important, and I always teach my children to respect people's wishes. However, I witness the most joyful smiles and youthful transformations from elderly residents when I bring my children in to visit.
Grandma June passed away two years ago, but I still bring my girls to visit residents at assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Sometimes I go as part of a belly dancing troupe to spread some infectious music and share a little dance therapy. But sometimes we just go to say hello and breathe some vital life energy into these "homes away from home."
Some of my earlier writing cites clinical evidence about the healing role that pet therapy and music therapy plays in the lives of the elderly. Unfortunately, I can't yet make a scientific claim about my theory that children are quite therapeutic in the lives of the elderly. That said, I do know what my heart feels and my eyes see when the very young and very old are brought together. Everyone benefits. The children and the elderly have a wonderful time talking, laughing and working on crafts together.
Activity director Mindy Bench in Cottage Grove, OR created an inter-generational day camp known as Camp Grandma based on her desire to bring these mutually beneficial age groups together. It is a delightful experience for both young and old, one I would love to see replicated in assisted living facilities around the country.
What are your experiences with young children and the elderly? Do you know of any inter-generational day camps at assisted living facilities that you would like to share with our EldercareABC community? I look forward to reading your thoughts as comments on this blog.