Taking inspiration from the hit television series Old People's Home for Four-Year-Olds, The Maranatha Gunyah Intergenerational Learning Centre in Australia has started welcoming residents from the neighbouring Maranatha House aged care facility. It is the first facility in Australia to offer regular interaction between residents and pre-school children in purpose-built rooms.
The centre is using research from Griffith University's Intergenerational Care Project, which promotes interactions through games, reading, and singing to combat memory loss and loneliness in the elderly.
The ground-breaking intergenerational care research at Griffith University, which analysed programmes combining aged care and child-care showed the benefits to both older and younger people.
“Importantly it makes us think about the sustainability of the programme,’’ said Professor Fitzgerald.
There is a published evidence-based toolkit from the researchers for those who want to establish a programme that connects younger and older people. The toolkit includes costings to set up and run a programme, as well as a step-by-step guide on how to plan and deliver an intergenerational practice programme.
“We are also able to share tips on how to conduct the programme. We connect three-to-five-year-olds with people over 65 in different modes,’’ said Professor Fitzgerald.
“There is no ‘best’ model, but our evidence showed the programme should be 8-10 weeks, 1.5-2 hours per week, with one-on-one interaction between a younger person and an older adult.
“High intergenerational engagement is achieved when doing one-on-one activities, such as reading. There is less engagement when doing group activities such as dancing or ball games. We recommend a mix of high, middle and low level of engagement.”
A lot of these activities depend a lot on the mobility of the seniors. All participants enjoy one another’s company sharing a lot of laughter and love. There are also benefits of older adults and younger children learning in a reciprocal way.
Radford explained that it was important to understand brain development and brain function decline and how it is influenced by mixing generations.
Older adults are less socially isolated when they mix with children and, as a result, this may delay cognitive and associated physical decline. Both older adults and children are more active and happier.
Professor Anneke Fitzgerald, the lead investigator in the project, is impressed with the model of Maranatha house.
"A shared campus model is absolutely the most preferred model to have," Professor Fitzgerald said.
"Mixing with younger children through activities will help older adults with their reminiscence to transfer to the next generation, but reminds them of their own worth, a sense of self-actualisation, worth to the world, and a sense of purpose.
"The older folk talk to one another more, they are much less cranky, much more engaging with one another, and there is less buzzer ringing during the night."
It has been a tough couple of years for the aged care sector, which has taken a hard hit with COVID-19 and the revelations of the Royal Commission.
For all the stakeholders in this $3million project, investors through to residents and children, surely it showcases a better way forward for the elderly in aged care.