By Kinga Dabrowska, customer relations co-ordinator at Abbey House, Swindon, a care home run by Milestones Trust. www.milestonestrust.org.uk
When my oldest child was four and I turned 30, she greeted me on the morning of my birthday with: Mum, you are old! A few years later my mother turned sixty and my little boy cried, saying that she’d probably die soon, due to her advanced age. When I introduced him to my friend’s granny, who was 101, he took a photo to present at Show & Tell in school. Most of the children were surprised she was still alive.
In children’s eyes, someone who gets older slows down and their idea of fun changes – if they are no longer jumping around, splashing water on cars or climbing trees, they must be on their last legs. Kids often associate age with roles; someone who is a mum or a granny, cannot possibly ‘behave young’.
At Abbey House care home in Swindon, we have been welcoming children from local schools to take part in activities and spend time with our residents. Every visit helps children understand that age is just a number and doesn’t mean a person can no longer have fun, play games or enjoy life. To mark Dementia Action Week this week, Abbey House launched a competition Old Age – the Crown of Life, inviting these young people to present their creative vision of the old age.
I was astonished, humbled and surprisingly emotional about the entries submitted. The creativity, thoughtfulness and appreciation for older people was remarkable. Drawing on careful research and their own imaginations, they managed to express both the wisdom of age and the need for social inclusion to support a healthy, active life for the older generation.
Jack from Abbey Meads Community Primary School won first place with his poem, which he read aloud at the award ceremony leaving barely a dry eye in the house and offering great inspiration. Amy from Abbey Park secondary school who won first place in the older group, presented a collage combining facial features of old and young, to show that we are the same age inside. Amy explained that she used red thread as a symbol of energy, power, strength and determination. Other children shared ideas about what people with dementia can do and how crucial contact with others is. Hosanna painted a picture carefully entitled ‘They may forget what you said… but they will not forget how you made them feel’.
The competition helped the children think of the old age as the culmination of a long journey. And typical of their youth and openness, it took the children no time at all to grasp this concept and think again about their perceptions. Life doesn’t end with the growing number of candles on the cake, it just changes. We learn as we grow, we get a different perspective, but each stage presents the same importance. During the course of our life we collect our achievements, create memories and gain knowledge; all that is later transformed and passed on to the next generation. Children drink from the goblet of wisdom and experience so carefully filled up by those older than them.
For our residents, the sharing of the children’s artwork and ideas was a joyous reminder of the spark of youth and helped them remember that thanks to the benefit of their age, they have a great deal to offer to the young.