24 Sep 2019

Baby Buddies: inter-generational playgroup a delight

From First Up, 5:50 am on 24 September 2019

An Auckland rest home is winning plaudits with a programme that teams its dementia patients up with babies.

Baby Buddies has been hailed a great success and is loved by both the patients, the babies and their parents.

Videographer Claire Eastham-Farrelly and Katrina Batten visited for their baby buddies fix as part of our First Up series on dementia.

One Friday each month, dementia patients from the Selwyn Retirement village and the wider community gather to spend time with young parents, their babies and toddlers.

The Baby Buddies programme has been running at Lavender Cottage in the Auckland suburb of Point Chevalier since 2016, and two years ago it won a Community Connections Award with the Selwyn Foundation.

Diversional therapist Roxy Ducusin looks after the clients, carers, and also helps liaise with the families, DHB, GPs, and other relevant health organisations.

Mental aerobics exercises are the main focus of the programme, she says.

“Our clients, they’ve got mild to moderate dementia, so they’re still physically and cognitively active. Of course, there’s an episode of forgetfulness because of their condition, [but] comprehension-wise they’re still all right with that, following instructions for example, and communication and interaction with other people, they’re very good at that.”

Dementia patients attending the Baby Buddies programme range from 72 to 92 years old, and females account for 60 percent, Ducusin says.

“When I started I think we had just 20 percent men, so as time goes on I was quite surprised that more men are coming. I think it’s the family who is having the initiative for the loved ones, to bring them to activities like this to prevent quicker progress of their condition.”

Grant Feasey has been bringing his mother-in-law Laura to Baby Buddies for about a year.

“I think the big thing for Laura is the social contact and connection. Any connection, whether it be with children, babies or other adults, has a big impact on her day," he says.

“She’s far more engaged, far more at ease with herself, and less agitated, so it’s really important … she was getting lonely on her own and just wants to be in company and I think this provides it beautifully and the fact that there’s the young kids, it’s a real novelty.”

The interaction with children seems to help jog Laura's memory, too, he says.

“We get all the stories of all the kids growing up and it’s cool because you can see that it does spark those memories that are there.”

Heather and Trevor – who live in an apartment at Selwyn Village – have been married for 65 years.

Trevor was diagnosed with dementia four years ago, and Heather says the Baby Buddies programme offers the couple a type of comradeship they wouldn’t otherwise have

“Sometimes it’s difficult but programmes like this give me time for myself, which is really important. Because 24-7 it’s quite a hard job, sometimes it’s not easy, but we just keep going and make the most of it,” she says.

“It’s just lovely – the interaction between them and watching it – and it takes you back to what you did at that age.”

It’s not just the dementia patients and their families providing positive feedback on the programme, but young parents, too, Roxy Ducusin says.

“The atmosphere is different than our usual activities because it’s more interactive, the engagement is spontaneous, there’s no right or wrong when you talk to the babies, [or when] you talk to the mums and they’re very happy to share their parenting wisdom to the new mums.”

One of the mums is Emily, who brings her daughter to the Selwyn Village where her aunt is a resident.

“[My daughter] just seems excited when she sees all the people and the attention and cuddles, and all the toys as well.”

Maria is another young mother who’s been bringing her son Ezra since he was six months old, he’s now 19 months old.

“I actually quite like coming here, and look forward to the Fridays. He always likes a good cuddle and at six months old he was used to being passed from the oldies here from lap to lap and he got really used to it.

“We don’t have grandparents here and you’re a bit isolated in Auckland so it’s been nice coming to a community group like this, and I really think it’s helped his confidence a bit.”

The interaction between young ones and clients is very special, Ducusin says.

“Our people love to chat to the mums and babies, it’s always a relaxing environment when the babies are here, for both our clients and the mums. We’ve got a particular client,  he’s very anxious, but when we’ve got the babies, he’s so good, it’s like magic.”