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Abbotsholme pre-schoolers give amazing boost to dementia sufferers through Barrowhill Hall care home project

Inventive project sees elderly mental health improved by interaction with youngsters

An innovative new project inspired by a TV documentary is seeing pre-school children improve the mental health of dementia sufferers.

Ann Parker, early years boss at Abbotsholme School in Rocester, recently watched Channel 4 show Old People's Homes for Four Year Olds.

The documentary showed how elderly people, including dementia sufferers, could experience huge psychological benefits after interacting with youngsters.

So Ms Parker decided to take eight children, aged three, four and five, to visit residents at Barrowhill Hall care home, in Rocester.

John Mosley spent time with this five-year-old pupil

The visit was so successful in improving residents' well-being - particularly in Churnet Lodge, the home's centre for those in the early stages of dementia - it will now become a weekly event.

Ms Parker said: "I'd heard about the idea some years before and thought it was a good one, but then I saw Channel 4’s Old People’s Homes for Four Year Olds and the advantages for both groups were clear – I was determined to make it happen.

"Some children spend a great deal of time with a grandparent so they’re used to older people and were comfortable straight away.

"Others surprised us with their confidence in shaking hands and saying hello, and sharing out biscuits. It's been a fantastic experience and we’re sure we’ll see some friendships form over the coming weeks."

Peggy Hughes, 96, said she enjoyed colouring with one of the visiting children.

She said: "I’ve got grandchildren and I love it when they visit. These little ones have been so much fun to have around that I’m looking forward to next week already."

Ninety-six-year-old Peggy Hughes enjoyed crafts with this four-year-old boy

Research from the USA suggests spending time with children can have considerable benefits for care home residents.

Studies have shown it can enhance their confidence, self-esteem, social skills and emotional well-being, while making them feel more connected to their community.

Manager Martin Rogerson said they had no hesitation in welcoming the children. He said: "We see the difference it makes to people here when younger members of their families come to see them. Their mood changes and they’re more engaged.

"The residents have absolutely loved having the youngsters visit and chatting with them has helped them to reminisce. They have shared their memories of school and have enjoyed talking about the things they loved to do when they were young."

Barrowhill Hall is home to 74 residents, many of whom have dementia. The scheme will continue every Monday for the rest of the school year.

More information is available online at www.barrowhillhall.co.uk

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