A grandmother who struggles with vascular dementia has found a new lease of life – by volunteering once a week at a NURSERY school.
Joyce Stackhouse, 85, has problems remembering what she has done or people she sees on a day-to-day basis and can easily become confused or anxious.
But the gran-of-seven lights up during her weekly two-hour visits to Highdale Day Nursery in Clevedon, Somerset – where the children fondly know her as ‘Nanny Joyce’.
Joyce joins in with drawing, singing and even dancing with the class of two- to four-year-olds, even getting down on all fours to crawl inside the nursery’s ‘dark den’ tunnel.
Joyce, from Backwell, Som., says she thinks of the tots as her own children – and that her visits to the nursery are much more fun than being at home.
And her granddaughter, Claire Stackhouse, said that not only does Joyce love playing with the children, but it has had great improvements on her mobility and her mental capacity.
“She’s like a totally different person when she’s here – I feel like she’s got her spark back since she started coming,” said Claire, 24, who works at Highdale Nursery.
“Before she started coming here, she needed help getting up from sitting on a chair.
“Now she’s been down on all fours crawling into the dark den – although she needed a bit of help getting back up.”
Claire added: “Most of the time she can’t even remember the name of her friend down the street who she sees almost every day.
“But we had a new child start recently and she said, ‘That’s a new one’ and recognised she hadn’t met them before.
“And she remembers the songs we sing with the children, she knows the words and she has her favourite songs.
“So we’ve been able to see that progression, and the positive impact it’s had on her.”
Claire was inspired to invite ‘Nanny Joyce’ to Highdale after watching Channel 4 documentary ‘Old People’s Home For Four-Year-Olds’ in August.
The programme, filmed in a care home in nearby Bristol, introduced a group of four-year-olds to the residents of the home – with ‘amazing’ improvements to the mental and physical health of the latter.
And Highdale Nursery manager Sarah Millard, 39, said that Nanny Joyce’s visits since September have had a “really, really positive impact” so far – on both Joyce and the children.
“They get really excited to see her,” said Sarah.
“On Monday I said to them, ‘Does anyone know what day it is tomorrow? We’ve got a special guest coming’., and one of them shouted out, ‘Nanny Joyce!’.
“They look after her as well – it’s like they know she’s elderly and needs a bit of looking out for.
“Last week she was sat in a chair and one of the children went off and got her a cushion to sit on – without even being asked to do so.”
Claire added that Joyce is far more relaxed during her visits to the nursery.
She said: “It’s really nice for me to see her in this environment.
“When I see her outside of the nursery, at my dad’s house or something, she’s always worrying about something, like getting home before it gets dark.
“But when she comes here, she says all her worries disappear.”
And even though Joyce said she was “a little overwhelmed” when she first started coming, she seems to have settled in well now.
“When I first came here I honestly didn’t know what I was letting myself in for – it was a bit overwhelming,” she said.
“But I wouldn’t have this kind of fun just sitting at home on my own. They’re all as good as gold,” Joyce added.
Claire, Sarah, and fellow manager Lindsay Hall now hope that they can lead by example, and inspire other nurseries to invite elderly people into their classrooms to continue the positive impact.