Intergenerational program benefits older adults with and without dementia

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — It is story time for a classroom of two and three-year-olds, and Fan Etienne has the magic touch.

“I’m known as the book lady,” Etienne says.

Etienne, a retired Ashland librarian, moved to Westminster Caterbury more than three years ago, and she has been a part of the intergenerational program ever since.

“It’s a familiar behavior for these residents. To love,” explains Kendra Spencer, a recreational therapist. “The handshakes, the high-fives, the hugs when the children leave or when they come, the greetings.  That ‘s a beautiful thing to see.”

Spencer says residents with and without dementia can interact with the community’s child development center a few times a week. These regular activities won’t prevent them from getting the disease or stop the progression, but they can slow it down.

Research shows socialization is one of the best ways to fight dementia, and it can also ease feelings of isolation and depression associated with a diagnosis.

“A lot of them don’t remember it from day-to-day or week-to-week, so it’s that moment,” Spencer says.  “It’s those 30 minutes that really put a smile on the residents’ faces.”

At Westminster Canterbury, Haydee Dixon goes by Senora Dixon.  The Puerto Rico native teaches kids Spanish.

Haydee "Senora" Dixon gets a hug after her Spanish lesson.

“They’re eager and they’re happy to see you, and they show you what they learned and they tell their parents what they learned,” Senora Dixon explains why she loves connecting with kids.

Blair Lawson has a 20-month-old and 4 1/2 year-old enrolled in the Child Development Center.  Her older son especially enjoys going to a pre-school with built-in grandparents.

“It’s just a wonderful thing to see there is no anxiety, there is no fear.  Residents are just like anyone else to him,” Lawson describes the benefits.

Etienne says it is often the highlight of her week.

“It keeps us on our toes, and it’s fun,” she says with a smile.  “Children are delightful.”

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