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PreSchool in Alzheimer's Care Center
By Diane Guthrie
(Page 1 of 3)  

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 Rano.

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 these benefits.

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.

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