“We’re going on a bear hunt, we’re going to catch a big one,” Hayley Reynolds and her gaggle of tiny tots sing.
Gloria, who is just a handful of years away from her 100th and a resident of Hugh Cunningham Gardens at Tura Beach watches on. Gloria doesn’t realise yet but the bear Hayley and her dozen or so preschoolers are looking for is sitting on her lap.
A whale and kangaroo are found before Gloria’s bear is discovered, much to the joy of all involved.
The smiles and shared experience create an instant bond across the generations in the room, the cake and watermelon that follow seal the deal.
Hayley is the Program Coordinator, for the Intergenerational Playgroup that has been running at the Tura Murrang Library for almost last three years, more recently she has taken on the Connecting Through Memory program supported by Bega Valley Shire Library and Dementia Australia.
On Thursday (December 5) at Bega Library, the community is invited to a special event to mark the success of these pioneering initiatives.
The Connecting Through Memory program is the first of its kind in Australia and supports people who may be experiencing some memory loss or social isolation to remain engaged and active as valued members of their communities.
At the event, participants will share their experiences through performances, displays and craft activities, including live music from program participant and local country singer Ross Lowe.
Children and staff from Bandara and Eden Early Learning Centres, where some of the Connecting Through Memory sessions took place, will also be there alongside Hayley Reynolds.
“Children have an innate respect for older people. They are naturally inclusive in that they show us how to look past any physical or cognitive decline, which is why this program is so important to our community,” she says.
Hayley believes the recent ABC TV series ‘Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds‘ has increased awareness and interest from local families getting involved.
The Connecting Through Memory program started in May 2019, Hayley says its helped push aside some of the stigma around ageing and memory loss that older community members and their carers face every day.
“And it’s confidence building for the kids, they get this audience of people who just love and adore them for just being themselves.”
Getting emotional talking about the impact she has witnessed Hayley says, “seeing a bunch of older people get back on their bus at the end of it with big beaming smiles is the best.”
“The [aged care] staff tell me that residents are happier for the rest of the day – whether its that they have got something to talk about or just that their mood is lifted. To be able to give them that through a simple connection like this and give them that feeling of well being is really powerful.”
Council’s Programs and Partnerships Officer, Scott Baker says the kids involved see participants as grandparent figures who will sing songs, make craft, tell stories and laugh with them.
“Combating isolation, loneliness and depression in people who may be experiencing some memory loss has been a significant benefit coming out of this ground-breaking program,” Scott says.
“Our tailored program has boosted the self-esteem of participants by sharing and celebrating their memories and providing opportunities to create positive memories based around meaningful activities with the preschool children.”
The Connecting Through Memory program has been designed in a way that it can be rolled out to libraries and early childhood learning centres around New South Wales.
Bega Valley Shire Library is actively investigating new funding sources to see the program continue and expanded into 2020.
“Our libraries are committed to forging intergenerational relationships in our communities – look out for us in Bermagui next year,” Scott says.
Outside the program, Hayley says everyone, every day can build relationships with older members of our community, “don’t be scared to interact, people are scared of dementia and of saying the wrong thing.”
“It can be confronting at times but more often it’s not. Just be yourself and be positive – have a sense of humour and you can’t go wrong. Old people are awesome – they are too old for the barriers that hold many of us back.
“They still have a lot to give, being treated like a human and not a care case is so empowering.”
Join the free celebration of intergenerational connections that have formed through the Connecting Through Memory program – Thursday, December 5, 10:30 am at Bega Library. Register now via Eventbrite.