Elderly residents suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's disease are experiencing emotional and mental 'transformations' at a nursing home in the US which has been combined with a childcare centre.
Known as 'The Mount', the Intergenerational Learning Centre in West Seattle is a fully integrated childcare and a senior care centre where 125 children and 400 elderly residents come together five days a week.
The two groups enjoy activities like music and dancing, art, storytelling, and lunchtime together.
During those times, residents prone to confusion and depression, many diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer's, are engaged and lucid.
Foundation executive director Molly Swain said the concept came from trying to recreate the home-like environment, rich with human interaction, and decided to integrate children into the program. The effect they saw was remarkable.
"There are so many different kind of states that people come in to the Mount. Some may have physical needs, others may be suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s or dementia," she said.
"Some of the young children are learning to speak and you might say that someone who’s struggling with dementia is also perhaps struggling to get the words out. So you see, that struggle, and that interaction and that working it out together."
The centre has become the subject of a documentary called Present Perfect, shot over the course of the 2012-2013 school year by filmmaker Evan Briggs.
On a trip to the centre, Sunday Night met a woman with advanced Alzheimer's named Dorothy and her husband, who was forced to put her into the centre.
While Dorothy normally can't speak coherently, in the story she can be seen speaking in full sentences during time with the children. It is just one of many 'moments of grace' witnessed by staff there.
"We wheeled her into the children — and I hadn't understood a word Dorothy had said to me leading up to this — and all of a sudden she starts talking to these children," Reporter Denham Hitchcock said.
"I was standing there with our crew and her husband and all of us just literally holding our breath just watching her come back into the present, come back and focus."
"We've seen some incredible moments"
According to the documentary, 43 percent of older adults in the US experience social isolation, which can result in depression as well as physical and mental decline.
While there is no study into why the children are affecting Alzheimer's and dementia patients, Swain believes it triggers memories of when they had their own children.
"Those who are experiencing dementia, spending time with the babies just brings you back, particularly for those who are mothers, to a time when they held a child and played with a toy together and it just takes them to a place where they can just exude that love back
They also see mental improvements during the children's activities like music and art.
"I think music is another one of those things that we all have inside of us all the way through life and it just is triggered and when the children come with the residents and they start dancing."
"You know suddenly then you see the foot tapping and the body moving and the residents want to join in."
The idea to incorporate children came back in 1991, when a nurse's daughter came to the centre. Eventually the whole four-block campus was designated a childcare zone and the groups were blended.
"They looked around at how to create more of a home-like environment here, and they'd done a lot of physical changes, but then they looked around and said what's missing is children," Swain said.
"In a home, in a family, we have children and all the ages interacting together and we needed children to bring a little more life and joy into the community."
To find out more about The Mount or to donate to its residents, go to www.washington.providence.org
Donations to Providence Mount St. Vincent make it possible to offer intergenerational programs such as art, music and recreation for the children and residents to enjoy together. With an average age of 92 and more than 60 percent of those needing skilled care having exhausted all financial means, your support enables excellent care and a loving home.