Spending time with toddlers helps elderly fight dementia

Experts have come up with an invigorating tonic for the elderly — a toddler.

Councils and retirement homes in England and Wales are experimenting with sharing care for the very young and the very old after research showed dramatic benefits to the health and happiness of both age groups.

When pensioners attending a day care centre in Gwynedd, north Wales, spent a week with six pre-school children this year the results were “amazing”, according to psychologist Catrin Hedd Jones, a lecturer in dementia studies at Bangor University.

Regular time with children banished loneliness and appeared to mitigate dementia symptoms, while children’s confidence and understanding increased.

Young boys, used to nurseries staffed by women, gained from the company of elderly men. The experiment is being repeated at four day centres in Wales and filmed for a TV series called Hen Blant Bach to be screened on S4C and BBC Wales this year.

Moving footage includes the transformation of Glyn, 84, who has limited speech after a stroke 15 years ago. After a few days in young company he started forming complete sentences again.

At her day centre in Blaenau Ffestiniog, Kitty Williams, 80, a former dinner lady who is registered blind, enthusiastically taught Ioan Hughes, 4, to make jam tarts.

And although Betty Williams, a mother of four aged 82, has dementia, after a singing session with Idris Ellis Jones, 3, she spoke lucidly.

On Tuesday at 9pm Channel 4 will screen Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds, a documentary showing the impact of time spent with children on pensioners in a home near Bristol. One-third of the group was depressed. But the series shows the unhappiest resident, Zina, 77, is delighted when a girl asks for help. Zina says: “To find a child’s hand in yours is one of the most moving things that can happen to you.”