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The only way is Up

The benefits of intergenerational activities between care home residents and children

By Rebecca Chandler & Nicola Gillin, Research Assistants, Positive Ageing Research Institute at Anglia Ruskin University

Intergenerational activities, where two generations are brought together to do activities which benefit them both, are receiving growing attention in the UK. As a result, care homes are increasingly looking to include an intergenerational angle into the activities that they provide for their residents. Children visiting care homes to do joint activities with the residents is one way of doing this.

The emerging popularity of intergenerational activities also piqued our interest as researchers, prompting us to explore the potential benefits these types of activities may have for the residents, the children and the staff who support them. We recently completed a research study exploring the benefits of one of these projects in Essex – the Up project. The Up project is a partnership between All Saints Primary School and Longfields Care Home in which children take part in weekly visits to share in games, arts and crafts, and memories with residents with and without dementia.

Our research revealed unanimous support and overwhelmingly positive reactions from care home staff, school staff, children and relatives of the residents alike. A number of other benefits and interesting observations were made as occurring as a result of the UP project.

The visits gave residents something to look forward to and get excited about during the week. Staff felt that they had an extra enthusiasm for their work afterwards. Children expressed empathy, patience, and creative communication techniques with the older adults. They also learned about dementia and the lives and experiences of older generations. Old roles were resumed by the residents, where they could mother, teach and guide children, opportunities that ordinary care home activities could not provide an outlet for. The interactions provided the trigger for both the children and care home staff to see the older adults in a different light allowing them to see past any impediments, with a new found appreciation for the personalities and talents of the residents:

‘I learnt that, if they only just have dementia it doesn’t mean that they don’t have any talent, Mary is a really good singer, I feel like she’s an opera singer.’

Intergenerational activities were seen as making the barrier between the care home and the community more permeable, closing the physical divide and reducing negative perceptions of care homes and older people:

‘People in the care home aren’t just put away somewhere to eek out their last days, that they can have a full life still and interact.’

Tips for care homes thinking about intergenerational activities

  • Form strong collaborations with schools or nurseries that are close by, this will reduce the need to transport which could impact costs and sustainability.
  • Keep activities simple, but purposeful. Those based on seasonal events can provide safe and common foundations for interactions.
  • Select appropriate activities which are dementia friendly and inclusive of those with sight or other impairments.
  • Keep the staff who support the children consistent and arrange a consistent time and location every week.
  • Prepare care home and school staff, their guidance is vital in helping residents and children build new relationships with each other. Staff can provide positive role modelling to the children in how to communicate effectively with older adults, and offer reassurance/explanation of conditions or behaviours.
  • Engage in a continual process with residents about their willingness to join or continue in activities with the children.
  • Respect the living space of the care home and keep activities to an allocated area.

Further questions still remain about the benefits of intergenerational activities. Can these programmes reduce the amount of medications needed by the older adults? How can they be used to foster more positive environments in care homes? Being part of the research which looks to answer questions like these is something that we at PARI look forward to in the future.

You can find our full report on the Up project at https://flipbooks.gs-cdn.co.uk/aru-2019/26/

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