14 August 2019
In her latest blog for us, Beth Britton writes about her passion for intergenerational work and how it can benefit youngest and oldest alike
Long before I became a mum, I’d seen the positive effect of older people and children sharing time together. My dad used to love seeing children when we visited local garden centres or cafes, and on a particularly memorable visit to Bekonscot Model Village dad was as enchanted sat in his wheelchair as the children were who stood alongside him, making eye contact at his level, smiling and laughing with him.
Showcasing intergenerational work on screen
Fast forward to the fantastic second series of ‘Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds’ that aired last year, and the benefits of intergenerational work were on show for all to see. During the 3-month intergenerational experiment that the programme conducted, some of the positive outcomes they measured in the older people were reductions in frailty, depression and their risk of falls, and improvements in physical fitness, balance and grip strength.
For the 4-year-olds who took part, the experts noticed improvements in their personal and social interactions, use of language, understanding of older people and ability to nurture and be empathetic. I was particularly struck by the way the children communicated with the older people in ‘Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds’, and the film the Alzheimer’s Society made for this year’s Dementia Action Week further underlined the fantastic communication skills children have.
Children and people with dementia
Children have a very open, non-judgemental way of approaching people with dementia, showing both kindness and humour, all of which are essential qualities in dementia care and support that adults often struggle with. As Nigel Hullah said in his Dementia Diary:
“Usually children don’t know what dementia is, so they tend to accept the older person where they are and enjoy the moments without any prejudice against age or ability.”
Making the most of the school holidays
With the majority of children now on their summer break from school, there are lots of opportunities for younger and older people to mix together, be it in garden centres, cafes and attractions like we visited with my dad, or through visiting parks or attending events like sports, which are fantastic levellers for people of all ages.
Sadly, my dad didn’t live long enough to meet his granddaughter, but for older people who have grandchildren or great-grandchildren my advice would be to make the most of every chance you have to be together. The joy of sharing a meal, BBQ, picnic or simply having ice-creams together in the sunshine enables bonds to be strengthened and memories to be made, as well as sometimes lots of mess and loads of laughing.
If you’re planning intergenerational activities they don’t need to be elaborate or expensive – reading, singing, drawing, painting, Lego building or puzzles can all fill time with fun and reminiscence, and if a child is particularly creative they might like dressing up and putting on a dancing or sporting show for their older relative(s).
The future of intergenerational work
If face-to-face get-togethers aren’t possible because an older person is living a long way from their family, connecting via video platforms like Skype or Facetime can help to bridge the gap. Having a live-in home carer can make facilitating this easier, but of course not every older person has young family members to connect with.
Thankfully, the benefits of intergenerational work are increasingly being recognised, leading to nurseries and pre-schools teaming up with home care and other care providers and older children visiting day centres and hospitals, meaning that not having youngsters in your own family hopefully won’t be a barrier to intergenerational activity for all who want it and would benefit from it in the future.
About the author:
Beth Britton is a leading campaigner, consultant, writer and blogger whose father had vascular dementia for 19 years. Beth is also a Skills for Care Endorsed Training Provider. More information on Beth’s website: https://www.bethbritton.com
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