As society has changed over the years, so too have relationships amongst families. With adults living longer, healthier lives, staying connected to loved ones has become more important than ever. Plus, numerous studies have shown that these intergenerational relationships have a positive impact on the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of all those involved.
‘Intergenerational relationships’ refers to the chain of relationships between ageing parents, adult children, grandchildren and occasionally even great-grandchildren. It is widely acknowledged that each part of this chain provides some sort of benefit to the other. For example, seniors are often able to use their extensive life experiences to share knowledge, support and advice with their grown children and grandchildren. Meanwhile, seniors often become more reliant upon the physical support provided by their grown children when they become limited by health or mobility in later life. Finally, the younger generation provides endless adventure, affection, happiness and openness to new perspectives, as well as more practical assistance with the likes of technology.
Studies have also indicated that children who participate in activities with seniors tend to have better reading abilities, communication and problem-solving skills, and a more positive attitude toward community service. For seniors who interact with children and younger adults, studies demonstrate that they tend to burn more calories, experience fewer falls and perform better on memory tests than their peers who do not have such interaction. Additionally, seniors living with dementia and other cognitive challenges experience more positive effects during interactions with children than they do during other types of activities.
It’s easy to see then the value that intergenerational relationships can bring to each person’s life, and this is something I have personally felt since a young age, having been raised in the care home environment. My parents founded CHD Living and bought their first care home in 1984. I was born whilst they were living in a cottage within the home’s grounds, and at the age of 8 weeks, I started going into the care home with my mother.
Growing up, I would spend a huge amount of time mixing with the senior residents, keeping them company and listening to their stories. This made for a somewhat unusual, but certainly fun, upbringing, and highlighted to me that the benefits also apply to generations who aren’t related.
Now, as Head of Hospitality, Communications and Commissioning at CHD Living, I have been keen to encourage the development of those relationships between our residents and children of the local communities who perhaps don’t have the opportunity to experience the benefits within their own families.
We are currently running 2 initiatives that are designed to connect our senior residents with younger generations, facilitating conversations and encouraging companionship.
Firstly, we have joined forces with a pioneering East London school for 4-18 year olds – School 21 – on a digital project that allows pupils to develop their communication and storytelling skills, whilst also providing residents with companionship and mental stimulation. Some of our residents who previously worked as teaching professionals, have even embraced the opportunity further by sharing some of their expertise with the children. One particularly session saw a former art teacher and the school children discussing how art has evolved through the years, comparing more traditional art forms with today’s popular digital art. This is just one example of how much different generations can stand to learn from each other when discussions are encouraged and facilitated.
A second initiative – our ‘Adopt a Grandparent’ programme – pairs residents across our care homes with ‘virtual volunteers’ for a chat over a video call. Although volunteers of all ages are welcome to sign up, we’ve seen some particularly wonderful relationships form between children as young as 6 and residents as old as 90. Participants have expressed their immense gratitude for the scheme, which really does reward children and adults with new friendships and role models that they might not otherwise have.
With such an impact being felt across all of our homes since the introduction of these initiatives, we hope to continue exploring opportunities for our residents to enjoy enriching connections with other generations by partnering with further schools, community groups and initiatives such as ‘Adopt a Grandparent’.