Children brighten nursing home residents' spirits at TigerPlace

Friday, May 2, 2014 | 10:06 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — A preschool-aged girl proudly points out her watercolor of a cavalier King Charles spaniel to her mother.

The painting, one of many adorning the walls at TigerPlace retirement community, represents the main character in author Barbara Levy's book "A New Spring for April." Levy sat with a stack of her books during a book signing with fellow children's author Deborah Sue Crews at TigerPlace on Friday.

The budding artist of the watercolor is an attendee of TigerSide Preschool, an intergenerational day care situated in The Neighborhoods, TigerPlace's dedicated nursing home and rehabilitation community.

As TigerSide’s assistant director Stephanie Ross puts it, programs like this can help “bridge the gap” between two very different age groups. For children who rarely visit elderly adults, TigerSide teaches open-mindedness toward differences in people. For some residents who can experience infrequent — if not absent — visitation, the children offer much-needed company.

The Centers for Disease Control notes that between 15 percent and 20 percent of adults over the age of 65 have experienced symptoms of depression. This figure is higher still for those in nursing homes.

The staff behind TigerPlace’s intergenerational day care intends to curtail depression among residents by reducing loneliness.

Betty Huhman has been a resident of The Neighborhoods since March. While she says that she’s fortunate enough to receive frequent visits from her family, she said she has seen the transformative quality the children offer to fellow residents who aren’t so lucky.

“I think the children show them some hope,” Huhman said. "They make the atmosphere more joyful."

Through the program, the children and seniors take part in a different activity each weekday. Mondays are movie days. Tuesdays mean art projects or book readings. On Wednesdays, the children make the rounds for room visits. Thursdays are free days, and each Friday brings a different, larger activity.

Past Friday activities have included tea parties and sock hops. This week, Friday meant reading time with Levy, who told her story of April, the kennel dog who finds a new home when she is adopted late in her life.

Before Levy's visit, Activities Director Kelly Gross led the kids in trivia about cavalier King Charles spaniels, April’s breed in the book. After, both children and residents had the opportunity to paint their own watercolor spaniel.

In the last two years, Ross says she has seen the presence of children transform the atmosphere of The Neighborhoods. Whether it’s from their boundless energy or the paintings and crafts that decorate the walls, children have the power to brighten residents' moods.

"When you're older, you need that care and children need care, too," Ross said. "Bringing the two together reminds the residents of who they used to be. It brings a reminiscence of life."

Supervising editor is Stephanie Ebbs.

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