85-year-old Margo Oldham bore a wide smile Wednesday, Dec. 20, as she made a Christmas tree and ornament sticker crafts with young children from Promise Lutheran Church & Christian Preschool.
“We love having the children come in,” she said. “We get to do fun things.”
At another table, 83-year-old Carol Mattern agreed with that sentiment.
“They’re really sweet kids; really friendly,” Mattern said.
Oldham and Mattern have dementia. They’re among a number of residents who live at Vineyard Place, a home specializing in care for the elderly who suffer from memory problems.
Children from the preschool visit the nursing home regularly, an arrangement that Cody Kohlhagen, the life engagement director for Vineyard Place, helped facilitate.
He said his son attended the preschool so he met with school officials and pitched them the idea of visits. The children have been visiting Vineyard Place every other month for a little over a year now.
They’ve done crafts, sang songs and in one particularly exciting visit played a game of “Simon Says,” led by Oldham outdoors.
“I love what I do for them, but watching the kids do it for them is really important and really exciting,” he said. “They just bring energy with them, which my residents pick up on.”
It’s a positive experience for the children as well, Kohlhagen said.
“Their teacher said that at this age these kids are really proud of their arts and crafts,” he said. “And they get really excited to give them to the residents, and they get really excited when they come back and a month or two later and see that it’s still on their door, their shadow box, their memory box. They get really excited to know that that was their craft they gave someone.”
Though the visits will likely have a lasting impression on the children who visit, they won’t sometimes for the seniors. But that doesn’t mean nothing is gained.
“For our residents with Alzheimer’s dementia we try to create moments of joy,” Kohlhagen said. “Because for some of my residents, 10 minutes after these kids leave they’re not going to remember they were here, but being able to show them that craft that they made and show them the pictures that we take of what they’re doing with these kids, will help remind them.”
It’s also about making residents feel good, he said.
“This feeling that they get will stay with them,” he said. “So even though they won’t remember what they did maybe an hour ago, they’ll still say, ‘It’s a good day. I don’t really know what I’ve done today but it’s been a good day.’”
After making Christmas trees, the group of preschool students did a series of holiday and Christian-themed songs to the delight of the seniors in the room.
When the singing and dancing was done, Oldham spoke out among the crowd.
“We’re so happy that you came to see us,” she said. “We really appreciate it.”