One of the many challenges nursing home providers face is providing ongoing occasions for residents to interact with multiple generations, including the very young. For some nursing home residents, the chance to enjoy youthful company is limited to onetime visits or special events—especially during the holidays when many schools, nonprofit organizations, and volunteers come by to perform, visit, or deliver goodies. Of course, family and friends will visit throughout the year, but those visits do not always include the youngest family members, and if the infants and toddlers do come, they do not visit with all the residents who might enjoy their company.
In 2003, a young mother with baby in tow walked into our community, EPOCH Senior Healthcare and Rehabilitation of Sharon (Massachusetts). She regularly visited her grandmother, who was one of our residents. During one visit, this young mom approached our activities director and told her about an organization that she belonged to, a group of women called the MOMS Club of Sharon.
Formed in 2000, the MOMS Club of Sharon today boasts about 60 members and continues to grow. Originally formed to reduce isolation for stay-at-home moms, the club has evolved to include working mothers who still want to make time to connect with other moms and young children. The MOMS Club of Sharon organizes a variety of events, including an annual fund-raiser to benefit a local charity and a winter party to get fathers involved.
The MOMS Club of Sharon is part of a larger organization, the International MOMS (Moms Offering Moms Support) Club, which has more than 2,000 chapters in the United States. The organization promotes developing local support networks for stay-at-home moms, including time to share concerns and ideas and time for the moms and their children to socialize. It was a pleasant surprise for us to learn about the Sharon chapter, especially when its members expressed an interest in coming to visit with our residents.
This young woman wanted to bring a group of moms from the club and their children into our community, to both visit with our elderly residents and expose the children to another generation. We immediately agreed to host a monthly gathering. For us it was an obvious winner because we have seen many times how positively the residents react to young children.
There were logistical problems, however. We had to decide where these visits could take place in our building. We hold most small group activities in the multipurpose rooms on each of the units, but none of these rooms would be large enough for this group. We decided to use our dining room, which has worked just fine. Next, we picked a convenient day and time for the moms and kids to visit. It worked for residents and moms to have the visits at 10 a.m. By then, everyone is up, has had breakfast, and is ready for an activity. The MOMS Club visits have proven to be the favorite activity for many of our residents
Before each monthly visit, we arrange about 20 chairs into a large circle where the residents sit. Approximately 16 residents will filter into the dining room—men and women, from 70 to 102 years old. Then, between 6 and 10 moms arrive with their children, ranging from infants to preschoolers. Upon arrival, the moms sit on the floor with their children in the center of the circle of chairs. Everyone shares greetings, and the moms enjoy the opportunity to converse with others in the group, let the children play, and relax. Residents engage with the group as much or as little as they like. Most residents take pleasure in simply watching the kids play; others enjoy the chance to shake hands, share a smile, or hold an infant. The visits last for approximately 40 minutes, which is just about the right amount of time for everyone. You will hear residents talk about the visits for days afterward. They seem to feel more connected to the outside world.
The visits stimulate memories, as well. Often, residents will reminisce about their own parenting experiences or childhood recollections. Even residents with varying forms of dementia seem to respond to the children. In fact, quite often the moms and their babies will visit the dementia unit, which usually generates a smile on residents' faces. “Even people with late-stage dementia have some of their long-term memory intact, and the kids help jog those memories,” notes Bernadette Graycar, life enrichment director at EPOCH at Sharon.