Written by Margaret Ryan, Bupa Australia’s Head of Dementia Services
Meccano may be a toy to some people but there are numerous social, emotional and physical benefits of playing with the colourful strips, plates and angle girders. I had the opportunity to demonstrate these benefits on Channel 7’s Sunrise programme in Australia.
This stemmed from a recent visit at our Bankstown Aged Care Home from Garth Spurdle, a master Meccano maker who brought along a range of his creations for our residents to play with and led to many participants remembering the toys from their youth.
The power of remembering their connection to such a cultural phenomenon for many is significant but also engaging and enjoyable for many residents.
Interacting with Meccano is a way for our residents, especially those with dementia to practice dexterity as they connect pieces of different sizes and shapes or move ready built pieces such as the propeller on a model plane.
There are more than 400,000 people in Australia who have dementia. Of those people, 50 percent of them are residents in aged care facilities. In the UK, there are 850,000 people with dementia, with one in six people over the age of 80 living with the disorder.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure so we choose to focus on maximising the quality of life for people with dementia and their families. This is why we take pride in our Person First Approach to tailored care within our homes.
Dependent upon the person, Meccano may engage motor skills, spatial skills and language skills which otherwise might have remained inactive.
A study in the Lancet showed that a third of dementia cases could be avoided through socialising, exercising and keeping our blood pressure down.
Meccano is a social way to relieve stress and engage in meaningful and joyful conversations. For older people, their risk of dementia is generally reduced when they are connecting and reconnecting with what they love and enjoy.
As residents comment on the creations, they use important communication skills of explaining ideas, describing the creation, talking about the process and verbalising potential challenges associated with making the piece.
This was reaffirmed by Garth Spurdle, the 74 year old who visited the home with his collection of mechanical masterpieces.
He says: “It keeps you young and your mind occupied. As a kid, I followed instructions but as an adult, I made pieces that weren’t in the instructions.
“I liked the human aspect of being a part of the NSW Meccano Club. It is what has helped me to carry on the hobby as an adult. There’s a real social aspect to sharing my creations with others.”
Mr Spurdle never grew out of Meccano and nor did Bupa Australia resident Bill Prigg. In fact they grew into it – to the point where Mr Prigg spent hours evolving his passion into a profession.
Mr Prigg, who is 95 years old, says: “Meccano is what kicked off my interest in mechanics and led me to an apprenticeship at 16 and by 18, I was building race engines.
“If you aren’t mechanically minded then Meccano is a good way to get you thinking like a mechanic.
“I can’t describe how it feels to see Garth’s Meccano creations – it has really brought back some good memories from my childhood.”