Playgroup for the ageing

With bright smiles and cuddles, children are helping residents living with dementia enjoy meaningful moments and a sense of purpose.

Every second Thursday, Thomas Yates (pictured) and up to 10 babies and toddlers go to a playgroup based inside Bupa Aged Care Bellarine, in the Geelong suburb of Newcomb. 

One-year-old Thomas is too little to understand the big difference he is making to the lives of the older people he visits.

This unconventional idea to partner with Playgroup Victoria has proved popular with residents, employees, children and parents.
“The resident’s faces really light up when the kids arrive,” says Sherridan Yates, Thomas’ mum.

 “They soothe or comfort the children and even get down on the floor and play with them,” Sherridan says.

Bupa Dementia Services Consultant for Aged Care, Heather McKibbin says the experience is particularly special for residents with dementia. 

“They (the children) love our residents - they do not see the 'dementia' or define the person by their dementia,” Heather says.

“There was one lady who rarely came out of her room, but always came to playgroup,” says Heather.

The experience brings back memories for some, of when they were parents or of their own childhoods.

“Often they can’t remember basic things but they seem to know what to do with the kids,” says Sherridan.
Older woman and two children
As there was no playgroup in the area, the team at Bupa Aged Care Bellarine thought they could help local families as well as prevent residents feeling lonely, helpless and bored. 

“The spontaneity of children is so important in a place where routine is pervasive,” says Heather. 

“It breaks up boredom and monotony – gives everyone a laugh.”
 “Residents, families, relatives and employees can see clearly how children enliven our home - they bring their energy, fun and spontaneity into the home,” says Heather. 

A playgroup isn’t the only unconventional addition to Bupa Aged Care Bellarine.

One of the big attractions is its many pets; rabbits, canaries, budgies, cockatiels, chickens, dogs and a cat.

“The children like to see all the pets - sometimes they can find an egg for their tea,” Heather says.

Playgroup has become an important part of life for residents at Bupa Aged Care Bellarine.

Residents plan meaningful activities in the lead up to playgroup day.

 “The children make the place hum and there is something for the resident and family to do together,” says Heather.

The program has been so successful Bupa has set up another at Coburg and work is underway to establish three playgroups at aged care homes in Toowoomba, South Morang and Portland.

Bupa is looking into rolling out the program at its homes across the country.
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