'They give us life!': Seniors get boost from weekly play dates

Seniors with dementia join children for sing-alongs, guessing games and friendship at the Garbarino Girard Centre for Innovation in Seniors Care.

Seniors visit children at the Algonquin College daycare

Singing and playing games stimulates memory and fosters friendship, according to Garbarino Girard Centre for Innovation in Seniors Care coordinator Kailey Lewis. (CBC News)

A rambunctious band of three year-olds and a group of seniors with early stages of dementia have become weekly playmates at Algonquin College's Garbarino Girard Centre for Innovation in Seniors Care.

Eleven seniors from the centre get a visit from children with the Algonquin College daycare on Thursday mornings for a play date full of games, sing-alongs and craft making that's beneficial to both young and old.

Kailey Lewis, one of the coordinators of programs for seniors, said the visits are the highlight of the day for the elderly group.

"When the kids walk in they are just bright faces, big smiles," Lewis said. "I see them light up like no other activity."

'They give us life!' says Frida Herskovitz of the time spent with the children. (Jessa Runciman/CBC)

The seniors are part of a day program at the centre that provides stimulating mental and physical activities and also offers respite for their caregivers.  

Engaging with youngsters in songs and crafts, playing guessing games and generally having fun also functions as brain and memory exercises for the seniors, who are 80 years and older and have been exhibiting signs of dementia.

The meetings also decrease their sense of social isolation, especially for those whose grandchildren live in another city, Lewis said.

The young children and seniors share a sense of discovery and friendship. (CBC News)

The seniors participating in the program were clearly delighted with the young companions.

"They give us life!" Frida Herskovitz said. "They're laughing, they're jumping, they're doing everything kids do!"

"They seem so spontaneous," added Earle Smith. "As adults we sometimes think before we answer, while a child just goes boom!" 

Daycare coordinator John Hefler said the feeling is mutual, and the children look forward all week to see their older friends. The children thrive and learn under the attention and care they receive from the seniors, he said.

"What I really love is the playfulness, I love the interaction," Hefler said.

We sit in on a playdate for preschoolers and their so-called "senior friends." 7:13
Sing-alongs and games double as memory excercises that encourage brain function. 0:54

With files from Jessa Runciman