Third Age: Playtime once again as Carnation Theatre performs to nursing home residents

FIVE years ago, Mairead Devlin and her friend, Mary O’Driscoll, formed a small theatre company to perform plays in nursing and care homes, and to encourage the residents to get involved.

Third Age: Playtime once again as Carnation Theatre performs to nursing home residents

“The feedback has been so great,’’ says Devlin. “We want to ensure that everybody gets something out of our shows.

“As Carnation Theatre, we try to bring every show to the next level in terms of interactivity, what we can do and what we can get out of our audience.

“We also want them to be accessible to those who might have cognitive problems. We want them to take part at levels that they feel comfortable within a friendly and supportive environment.’’

For this year’s Bealtaine Festival, Carnation Theatre has written a play, Fuss on the Bus, which they hope will be a trip down memory lane for the residents.

The premise of the play is simple. Mary and her best friend, Bridie, who are in their 70s, have a yearly ritual — they take the number 33 bus to Balbriggan, Co Dublin, and relive their memories from 1954, when they were 12, to the present day.

“They will age with the audience through the bus journey. We will hear things from their lives and about the times they were living in. At the moment, I am trying to find out whether disposable nappies were available in 1972.

“It has to be accurate, as the audience were there at the time, and many of them will be quite stimulated by remembering these times and their lives,’’ says Devlin.

She cleverly adapts the play for each city or town in which it is performed and she researches which local characters Mary and Bridie might meet on their journey, and the areas through which they will travel.

Every nursing home will be transformed into a bus, complete with a bell, conductor, and music from all the different eras.

Carnation Theatre is also involved with the charity Age and Opportunity’s Creative Exchanges programme. This brings new and interesting activities to people in care and nursing homes, with coordinators trained to organise music and visual-art projects.

Last week, Minister of State at the Department of Health and Department of Justice, Kathleen Lynch, awarded certificates to 16 newly trained activities coordinators, the first in the country, and praised the Creative Exchanges programme for changing people’s lives.

“It is so important that those organising activities are skilled and confident in being able to deliver interesting, varied, person-centred activities to the people who live in their nursing homes. These activities can have a direct impact on the quality of life of an older person in care,’’ said Lynch.

Research shows that people in nursing homes benefit from music, art and drama. Not only does it stimulate them, but it reduces levels of anxiety and depression and improves communication and interaction and can reduce the need for medication.

These activities can ‘reach’ people suffering from Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related conditions.

Mary Kelly, an Age and Opportunity activities coordinator in Carlow, agrees and recalls working with a resident in a nursing home who would not speak, but after getting involved in listening to some music and watching the instruments being played, she suddenly started to sing.

“She sang the full song, My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean, and that taught me to use music as a way of communication. It was fabulous. Her family were in tears,’’ says Mary.

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