Sweet Medicine For Alzheimer's

A new trend is catching on in the treatment of Alzheimer's patients. It is called intergenerational daycare, a system that places young children together with elderly patients.

The Early Show correspondent Melinda Murphy reported on this new approach to treating Alzheimer's and said it appears to be good medicine for both young and old.

With the rapidly growing number of Alzheimer's cases in this country, adult daycare has become a big necessity. So organizations like the Community Programs Center of Long Island, in New York, have arranged a system for Alzheimer's patients to spend time with young children every day.

For patients such as Marie Scavone, the experience has made a noticeable difference.

"She used to cry almost every day. And she would call me crying. And no matter what you did, you couldn't cheer her up," said Valerie Martini, her daughter. "When I found this place, it was almost instant where she just stopped crying. And all she does is laugh and smile."

In fact, spending time with children has become one of the most meaningful parts of her life. "The kids mean a lot to her," said Martini. "Now it's the only thing that she remembers during the day."

The director of the program, Elizabeth Geary, says children have a way of reaching these patients in a way that adults simply can't.

"I think because the children take them on their own terms," Geary told Murphy. "They really are not thinking of the person who has Alzheimer's. They're thinking of a person who happens to be sitting next to them playing with the Playdough or making the bird feeder chain. And they interact in a very normalized fashion."

Programs like these do have their critics. There are concerns that children may get a skewed perspective of old age and that the frail seniors might be exposed to illness. But, despite those concerns, Murphy says the people in the program seem to love it.

"I like to talk to them. And I like them to tell me little stories, the things they do in school and grade school," said one patient.

The children's teacher, Christine von Braumsberg, encourages them to call the elders the grandmas and grandpas.

"They love it. Every time we say it's grandmas and grandpas time, they love it. No matter what the activity we do, they just like being with them," said von Braumsberg.

There are about 500 of these intergenerational programs nationwide and, according to Murphy, the kids get something out of the arrangement, too. They get one-on-one time with an adult and the learning is a two-way street. Furthermore, the daycare center gives families of seniors a badly needed break.

"Initially, I needed some time just to run errands," said Rubye Lloyd, whose mother spends time in the Long Island program. "I just wanted some place she could go to where I could feel that she was safe, instead of just sitting at home vegetating."

What Lloyd didn't expect was to get a little of her mother back. "There are certain days when her old self comes out," she said. "The disease is a terrible disease. And bringing those glimpses back means a little bit of my mother is still there. So what more could you ask for?"