Children bringing 'magic' to aged care in Rotorua

Pre-schoolers from a Rotorua centre are lighting up the lives of residents from a local care home, and in turn learning about empathy, ageing and dementia.

Something special happens when children enter aged care and those who are cared for have the chance to become carers again.

That's what's been happening in two of Bupa's Rotorua homes and the impact has been powerful on both the residents and the visiting children.

The idea was initiated by Bupa New Zealand, The Gardens Rest Home and Hospital, which approached ABC Rotorua Sunset Centre.

Care home manager Sacha Mountfort, says the children’s fortnightly visits to the Garden have added to the residents’ quality of life.

“It’s like magic. It’s beautiful to see a spark in the residents just being with the youngsters. For me I think of it as a therapeutic ripple effect. The intergenerational interaction brings our residents out of their shells.”

ABC Rotorua Sunset Centre manager, Natalie Hall, says the children started visiting the rest home about two months ago.

“We take about six pre-schoolers to visit the residents at the Garden. The children absolutely love it. They get really excited about Garden day," she says.

Miss Hall describes the visits as life changing for both the pre-schoolers and the residents.

“It’s lovely to see them light up when they see each other. It’s neat to see the residents playing with playdough, manipulating the dough and making sculptures with the children.”

Rotorua Lakes Council’s People Portfolio lead, Councillor Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, commends the initiative.

“Dementia can be a frightening prospect for many as they age but as a caring community, all our older citizens should know, with our increased knowledge and awareness, we are here for them," he says.

I think the visits have helped our children to learn about kindness, empathy and to understand diversity through getting to know the wonderful people there.
Natalie Hall, ABC Rotorua Sunset Centre Manager

“I think the visits have helped our children to learn about kindness, empathy and to understand diversity through getting to know the wonderful people there. I’d suggest for any pre-school or school to consider similar visits because it teaches our children about life,” says Miss Hall.

Sasha Mountfort, who also visits the pre-school every week and reads to the children about dementia, is encouraging others to also take up the dementia-friendly challenge, saying it would be a great opportunity for the likes of youth groups, and mothers’ groups.

“Engagement helps break down age stereotypes and helps us create a dementia-friendly district. In order to achieve that goal, we as a community need to understand dementia through awareness, tolerance, respect and acceptance,” she says.

Similar heart-warming scenes were witnessed at Bupa's Redwood Care Home when parents and their babies from Kangatraining Rotorua were welcomed into the home as part of New Zealand’s National Dementia Awareness Week.

Manager Noku Sibana says the difference in the residents was remarkable.

“It was so beautiful to see, our residence faces brightened up, some of them asking the babies’ names and cuddling the children. The residents were so relaxed and calm which was marvellous to see.”

Bupa is a member of the Dementia-Friendly Rotorua Steering Group which was set up last year to help raise awareness about the diseases. Activities include sharing information with networks and surveying people living with dementia to identify community action priorities.

The chair of the Dementia-Friendly Rotorua Steering Group, Rosemary Viskovic, applauds the pre-school and Bupa for its leadership.

“Dementia can affect anyone. It’s important our community is aware of the disease and understands how they can help those living with dementia as well as their families or carers,” she says.

As part of Dementia Awareness Week this week, you can show your support by wearing purple and helping to Turn Rotorua Purple.