Practice question: How can we help older people in our care home stay connected with local children and young people?
Joint activities such as art, sewing, knitting, cooking or growing plants help relationships grow between the generations
Joint activities such as art, sewing, knitting, cooking or growing plants help relationships grow between the generations.
Older people connecting with children is one of the most natural and beautiful of human interactions. A variety of methods for creating intergenerational connections with older people living in care homes have been highlighted in the national media (Hockaday 2017, McAlees 2017, Weale 2017).
You could approach a local school, preferably one within walking distance, and discuss the possibilities with staff. It is important to prepare young children so that they have some understanding of the people they are going to meet. Having a skilled facilitator is a major advantage, and preparing care home staff is also important so that they can support the communication and activities when children and older people are together.
It can be helpful to identify areas of joint interest between children and residents. Contact can be initiated through letters, postcards or pictures exchanged before the children and older people meet so that the initial connections are established and they can form the basis of the interactions when the children come into the home.
Once connections are established, many types of activities can be arranged, including creative art, such as drawing, painting, collage and sculpture. Quizzes, games and storytelling can also be enjoyed by people of all ages. Singing and playing musical instruments can be fun. Devices such as tablets can be used to create digital art and interactive images.
Some homes have worked with local libraries or museums to deliver interactive sessions on specific themes. Physical activities can be energising and promote health, for example, dance, Wii sessions, yoga, t’ai chi, archery or bowls, all of which can be chair-based. Joint activities, such as art, sewing, knitting, cooking or growing plants help relationships grow between the generations.
Similarly, care home residents have gone into schools to take part in lessons, talk to groups of children or school assemblies, and support children by hearing them read or talk about their work.
The benefits of intergenerational activity can be immense for all involved. For children, teachers report positive changes in perceptions of older people, enhanced self-confidence and self-management skills, better behaviour and higher standardised reading scores. In addition, intergenerational work supports Ofsted values of nurturing children’s spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.
Children’s feedback collected by charity Alive (2018) includes: ‘I love finding out about old people. They are really interesting’ and ‘You get to ask all the questions you really want and most of the time they answer them.’
The benefits for older people can be significant, including major improvements in mood, memory, mental agility, mobility and overall physical health. There is pleasure in looking forward to, and reflecting on, the sessions. There is also great value in learning about different cultures.
As meaningful and lasting connections are established, this can enhance older people’s sense of engagement with life, feeling valued as unique human beings and, ultimately, feelings of real life legacy.
For care homes, enhanced activity provision and well-being of residents also have a positive effect on regulator ratings.
A care home activities co-ordinator said: ‘I can’t tell you how much joy it brings our residents to see young children. It brings back so many special memories for them all.’ A resident commented: ‘I don’t want to go back to my room. I want to stay up here forever with the children’ (Alive 2018).
It is important to emphasise that adequately prepared and facilitated activities can successfully include all ages and all abilities, including people with dementia, but consent and choice must remain central.
Risk assessments can be specific to each activity and schools can advise on insurance and relevant Disclosure and Barring Service regulations.
About the author
Hazel Heath is an independent nurse consultant
- Alzheimer’s Society – resources for school.
- AliveActivities – Bristol-based organisation offering toolkits, ideas and personal testimonies.
- Magic Me – London-based creative projects, particularly among people of diverse faiths and cultures as well as ages.
- Generations Working Together – Glasgow-based information and projects.
- Brighter Futures Together – an organisation in North East England offering factsheets and toolkits.