The seniors at the Senior Daily Living Center spent the morning doing exercises and playing table games.
About a half an hour before lunch, their routine changes.
The patter of feet and laughter can be heard.
(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec) Mikka Schmidhamer plays a game of ring toss with Colin Gearhart, 4, at the Senior Daily Living Center, a service of Allegheny Lutheran Social Ministries, in Altoona. The intergenerational center allows seniors and preschoolers to enjoy time together.
The preschoolers have arrived.
Seniors smile and engage the youngsters in activities from throwing bean bags to building a pyramid with cups.
Senior day-care participant Bernadine Farrell of Hollidaysburg said she looks forward to the time with the children.
"They are so cute. Every one of them. They brighten my day," she said.
The children are enrolled in Growing Years Early Learning Center at Altoona.
Both the preschool and senior programs provide peace of mind to families who need someone to oversee their loved ones while they work or take care of other responsibilities.
Both services are provided by Allegheny Lutheran Social Ministries and are unique in that they are housed across the hall from one another at 701 Quail Ave.
Such programs are considered a benefit to the seniors as well as the children.
According to the website of From Generations United, older adults with dementia or other cognitive impairments experienced more positive reactions during interaction with children than they did during non-intergenerational activities.
Other observations listed on website include:
An increase in positive behaviors from adult participants with dementia during music programs when children were present.
Adults who participated in an intergenerational program reported feeling happy, interested, loved, younger and needed.
For the children, From Generations United cited the following benefits:
Preschool children involved in intergenerational programs have higher personal/social develeopment skills than preschool children involved in non-intergenerational programs.
Children who regularly participate with older adults in a shared site program at a nursing home have enhanced perceptions of older adults, persons with disabilities and nursing homes in general.
Jen Peters, center supervisor for Growing Years Early Learning Center at Altoona, would agree.
She said the children are more accepting of people who need to use wheelchairs or canes, especially in a few years when they attend public school where other children may have a handicap.
Peters said the older and younger groups interact for about a half an hour in the morning three days a week, eat lunch together and see each other in the hall.
She said the older adults and children work on crafts together and will make ornaments for Christmas. They color eggs at Easter and colored pumpkins for Halloween.
They also use their cooking skills to make pizza or bake cookies.
Everyday activities may include bean bag toss, dancing or bowling a favorite of the preschoolers.
Peters works with Rachel Guiher, center manager for the Senior Daily Living Center, and staff to determine what projects meet the skill levels of both groups.
For instance, she said the children cannot take part in a game of hangman because they cannot read.
"It's beneficial for the adults," Peters said of the activities. "It keeps them young."
She said some were in professions where they worked with children and still get to be around them.
She said it teaches the children respect.
Guiher said the intergenerational time helps the adults to be patient.
Andrea Schurr, community and public relations director for Allegheny Lutheran Social Ministries, said the program can be beneficial for children who do not have grandparents nearby.
Peters said the benefits can go both ways. She said a relationship may develop with a preschooler and a senior whose grandchildren live out of the area. She related an experience when an older adult was reluctant to get off the bus that brought him to the day care until he was told a child he had gotten to know was there.
"It motivates them, lighten them up," Peters said of the seniors' opportunities to share time with the youngsters.
Guiher said many of the seniors suffer from dementia or may have a physical need and are under the care of a spouse or working adult child. For some independent seniors, the day care provides socialization.
"Some folks just like it here. They don't want to be home alone," Guiher said.
She said the center prevents isolation and the seniors take part in social games and cognitive games, including a software program that provides exercises to stimulate the brain and sharpen skills.
Schurr said the program also benefits the caregiver who can go shopping, keep an appointment or take a break while placing their loved one in a safe active environment.
Schurr said it is important for caregivers to have a respite available to them. She said they need to take a break for their own health and well-being.
Guiher said The Senior Daily Living Center is open from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays. State regulations allow the center to have 61 adults on the roster with a limit of 48 attending a day.
She said the staff to senior adult ratio is 1 to 7 under the state guidelines but she likes to keep it at 1 to 5. A nurse is available to distribute medications and the staff is trained to work with people suffering from dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.
Peters said the state requires her to have a 1 to 10 ratio for children ages 3 to 5 and 1 to 5 ratio for children ages 1 and 2. She said 20 children are enrolled and a maximum of 16 children a day are allowed at the preschool.
She said the children learn letters, shapes and numbers and do art activities. She said they are encouraged to in the areas of manners, sharing and listening.
They also do special programs with the seniors. Peters said the two generations have held a prom and a hoedown.
"[The children] bring life to the place. There's never a dull moment around here," Guiher said.