Bridging the gap – the importance of intergenerational play

Liza Millington, Head of Operations, Athena Care Group

In the UK, we’re not very good at talking about old age, it’s a topic that we tend to shy away from. But, with an increasingly aging population, subject matter revolving around the deficits in social equity has been the focus in the British media of late.

Age segregation is rife throughout the UK, most pronounced in cities, where just 5% of children have neighbours aged 65+ (Intergenerational Foundation, 2016). This distance between the young and old can of course foster attitudes resulting in age discrimination.

But old age shouldn’t preclude someone from productive and fulfilling social activities, in fact I, and many others, would argue that it becomes essential to good health and aging well as we get older (World Health Organisation, 2017).

But what can be done? Intergenerational non-familial activities have been highlighted as tremendously beneficial for all parties since the introduction of intergenerational care in Japan, in the 1976 (Age UK, 2018). The Japanese top the global table for life expectancy: on average, they can expect to live for 83.7 years (The Telegraph, 2017) – this in part is attributed to their healthcare system. It’s widely acknowledged that less equal societies are also less healthy and happy (United for All Ages, 2016).

Later, in the 80’s, this was popularised in the US, Canada, the Netherlands and in recent years has been spreading across the UK – for example, championed by Channel 4’s show ‘Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds’.

The mental and physical health benefits for intergenerational activity is well known:

The Elderly The Young
–          Decreases loneliness

–          Delays mental decline

–          Lowers blood pressure

–          Promotes mobility and physical skills

–          Reduces the risk of disease and the rate of mortality

–          Language development

–          Improved reading age

–          Increased social skills

–          Reduction in ageism

(Sources: Age UK, 2017 , Age UK, 2018, The Guardian, 2019)

Whilst the elderly’s lives, and more importantly quality of life, can be prolonged; by playing and reading with the elderly, the children get more opportunities for one-to-one reading and play time resulting in developmental benefits.

At the Athena Healthcare Group, we’re committed to bridging the intergenerational deficit, for the good of all. Launched March 2018 at Parklands Lodge, a nursing home located in Southport, the care home twinned with the local YMCA nursery.

Since then, the same 6 children have visited once a month to enjoy activities with the nursing home’s residents. All activities relate to the children’s school curriculum, covering subjects such as art, reading and history. The fun activities are planned in conjunction with former primary school teachers who are now residents of the home.

Since this initiative was kicked off in 2018, we’ve heard reports that some of the children have taken more of an interest in visiting their own grandparents at their care homes.

At first there was hesitation from the nursery carers, one commenting: “At first there was a feeling of worry, seeing young children aged 3-4 going into a nursing home.” Worrying that “the children may have felt unsure and a little frightened seeing older people” in this setting. She went on to say “But, now nearly a year gone since this initiative started, you would never believe how the children look forward to visiting Parklands Lodge”.

The Parklands Lodge residents have been noticing the benefits too, commenting “I feel young again” and “I feel like getting out of my wheelchair and start running around, playing with the children”.

The Lodge has plans to produce a book, displaying all of the children’s creations, along with comments from children, parents, teachers and residents to promote intergenerational social interaction and its benefits.

Parklands Lodge isn’t alone in this endeavour, this initiative has been rolled out to all Athena Healthcare Group care homes; promoting the importance of progressive care and working towards a society where age isn’t a barrier.

Edel Harris





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