Sitting around a table in the dining room at The Hampton in
Tumwater, Washington, preschoolers, their teachers, and
Alzheimer’s residents paint with watercolor. Rano, a student,
says, “Excuse me,” to get some attention. “Paint me a purple
horse,” Rano says to resident Sally D. Sally’s painting looks
very much like Rano’s. There are several brush stokes of
different colors of paint – no recognizable forms. Kara
Lawrence, the preschool assistant, paints a purple horse for
Kristina Christenson, Preschool Supervisor, who has worked with
elderly residents of care facilities and preschool students,
says, “When they watercolor, they are of the same mind.”
Christene Fujiwara, Administrator of The Hampton Alzheimer’s
Special Care Center for the past five years, works to make the
facility more home-like. Like many other administrators, she
brings in pets. But as far as she knows, she is unique in
operating a preschool in a stand-alone Alzheimer’s unit. “We’re
ahead of our time,” Fujiwara says.
“The preschool doesn’t have to be a money maker,” she says.
“It’s here to give more life to the residents.” Conversely,
there are many benefits for the preschoolers. Children, who are
not always able to be around their grandparents or great
grandparents, can participate in The Hampton intergenerational
activities. The building has security in place to prevent
residents and students from exiting the facility without an
escort. A nurse is always on duty. Lots of eyes are on
residents, students and staff. When Fujiwara meets with family
members of both prospective students and residents she stresses
The mother of preschooler Brandon drives up to the outside of
The Hampton at 7:45 am. She enters four digits on a keypad to
electronically unlock the door of the facility. After Brandon’s
mom signs him in and says her goodbyes, he follows his teacher
out of the preschool room. “Hello Sally,” Brandon says to a
resident. He holds on to her walker as they walk together to
the dining room to get something to eat.
One joint activity between the residents and students is music
and games. Residents make a circle around the students. Songs
play from a boom box and the children move within the circle
singing and making motions to nursery rhymes like “Itsy Bitsy
Spider,” “Farmer in the Dell,” and “Hokey Pokey.” The preschool
teacher tells the students to be careful when they swing out too
close to the encircling residents.
Arlene R., a resident, follows the “Hokey Pokey” rhyme
instruction of “you put your left hand in” and sings along.
“They’re jumping up and down and they’re tickled pink,” says
Ruby C., another resident. Margaret T., a resident in her 80s
who looks 60, says, “I don’t do much with the children. I like
to watch them. I don’t even know how old I am.”
Both young and old need to expend energy. The Hampton has an
indoor and outdoor circular walking route. Alzheimer’s
sufferers find comfort in performing repetitive actions like
walking. Students benefit too. Lawrence holds a student’s hand
and quickly walks with him. “He likes to throw his fits so we
take a walk,” she says.
Preschool staff presents options to a student to redirect them
to another choice when they exhibit undesirable behavior rather
than just saying, “No.” They see caregivers doing this with the
Alzheimer’s residents too.
During a two-hour spa activity Dotty Davis-Walsh, Life
Enrichment Director, has residents soak their hands in a
see-through plastic container of warm, soapy water. Rocks and
shells lie on the bottom to encourage exploration and longer
soaking. Parents of a preschooler use a similar method of
placing bath toys in a bathtub to encourage children to extend
their soaking time.
The spa activity is disturbed when Bill W., a resident, enters
the room. “Get these people out of here,” he says. He thinks
that the table that they are sitting around is his. Davis-Walsh
asks a caregiver to direct him out and tell him that she needs
five minutes to clear the table.
Davis-Walsh uses redirection to interrupt unwanted behavior.
Sometimes she emulates what a parent might do–offer food to
entice a change of behavior. She keeps three dozen donut holes
– chocolate and glazed – on hand. “If you promise coffee and
donuts you better deliver,” she says.
For the noon meal, the preschoolers eat first at the child-sized
table. They are served the same food that the residents are.
While they are eating, residents get seated and a nurse
dispenses medication to them prior to their meal.
Caregivers offer to help residents that are unable to cut their
food. Several residents wear towel-sized bibs. “This is called
a shirt-saver and I’ve got it on,” says Arlene, pointing at her
When residents get up to
leave their table, those that use walkers search for theirs.
Arlene attempts to take another person’s walker. Diana Warren,
a caregiver, intervenes. “This is Juanita’s. Yours is green;
hers is blue.” Warren playfully refers to the walkers as
automobiles. Arlene’s is new and fancy and she calls it a
“Cadillac.” To a resident nearby she refers to his as a “Ford
In the early afternoon, the
preschoolers sleep on mats on the floor of their room. The room
has windows on three sides so during naptime, shades are pulled
down to darken it. The rest of the time, the shades are up and
people can observe the children through the windows. Residents
notice when the children are gone. During the week the
Preschool had off for the Christmas holiday, residents kept
asking caregivers where the children were.
Afternoon activities include
playing with Play-Doh. One resident sits at the table with the
students but doesn’t appear to notice them. She is in the late
stages of Alzheimer’s and has limited physical movement. “We
don’t give Play-Doh to residents, especially if it’s cut with a
cookie cutter. They might eat it,” Lawrence says. “A child
under two and one-half might do that too.” Rano, rolling out and
cutting her dough, says, “I’m making lunch – strawberry
vanilla,” and laughs. A resident wanders in looking out of
sorts. “Are we being noisy?” Lawrence says. “It’s a fun noise
Preschoolers deliver mail to
the residents late in the afternoon. Morgan happily hands the
envelope to a resident but doesn’t want to stick around while
Lawrence helps them open the mail and read it.
Lawrence hands Jason an
envelope to give to Sally. “She’s a pistol. That’s why they get
along so well. They don’t see her as an old lady,” she says.
“You’re my favorite kids in the world,” Sally says. Jason hands
the envelope to Sally. “Can I give you a kiss,” she says. “No,”
Jason says. The caregiver suggests that Sally blow him a kiss.