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Improving social isolation and mental well-being through intergenerational music sessions

In a bid to improve residents' health and well-being, one care home in Oxfordshire holds free intergenerational music sessions, where residents and children are engaged in melody making.  

Smiles make their way around the residents of Abingdon Court Care Home as the children enter the lounge. Noise erupts as greetings take place between the residents and the children’s parents, before the babies’ giggles catch everyone’s attention.


Margaret Hughes (left) attends every session of the All Together Now group because of the 'children's faces and actions'. Picture: David Gee

This is the opening scene of the monthly All Together Now intergenerational music session held at the Oxfordshire care home with nursing. Organised by Rachel Shearer, the intergenerational session involves babies, toddlers and pre-school children and residents interacting with one another through music.

Bringing age groups together

Abingdon Court Care Home decided to bring the age groups together five years ago when the then activities coordinator realised that residents’ spirits were lifted when their grandchildren visited, explains Ms Shearer.

‘The idea was that it would be more of a toddler group with a bit of singing, but it turned into mostly singing and a bit of play,’ she says. 

5

number of years the All Together Now intergenerational music sessions have been running

With experience in running toddler and pre-school music groups, Ms Shearer was asked to lead the intergenerational session. Having done no research or training on intergenerational learning, however, ‘we were flying by the seat of our pants', Ms Shearer recalls.

Recognisable tunes

The hour-long session kicks off with The Wheels on the Bus and the children, age six months to three years, their parents and the residents are encouraged to join in with the singing and actions. Traditional nursery rhymes, such as Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and The Grand Old Duke of York, are Ms Shearer’s go-to choice because the residents, some with dementia, are more likely to know them, she says.

Ms Shearer encourages interaction between the generations by having the children hand out musical instruments and materials to the residents, for example, colourful scarves. And for the babies who are yet to walk, their parents hold them and face the residents so they can see each other experiencing the music.


Resident Ann Towle is excited when the children come to visit.
Picture: David Gee

The interaction between the residents and children may be as subtle as handing out or collecting instruments, but the effect on residents is marked. ‘It’s much easier for the residents to give up something if a small child is asking for it,’ Ms Shearer says. ‘They might well hang on for grim determination if an adult tries to take it away from them.’

And while it may seem that not all residents are responsive during the sessions, activities coordinator Ivone Delgado says, ‘some of them might not look up, but they tap and smile’.

Ms Shearer supports Ms Delgado’s observation. Describing one resident, she says: ‘The gentleman who was curled up in the chair, he used to be more responsive than now, but you could see he was moving his hand, very gently, but with the music.’

1.2

million older people in the UK are chronically lonely, states Age UK

Resident Margaret Hughes generally does not like to attend the home’s other music sessions due to the loud volume, but she attends every session of the All Together Now group because of the ‘children’s faces and actions’.

‘I look forward to coming,’ she says. ‘I feel pleased. I can’t sing in tune, but never mind.’

Ms Delgado also recognises the effect of the group on residents’ emotions. ‘Ann suffers with anxiety, and when I tell her that the children are coming she gets excited.

‘And after a session, for the next couple of days, Ann will ask me when the children are coming back.’

Stress reduction

Mihai Barbu has worked as a nurse at the care home since 2015. He says that the All Together Now session has helped to improve the residents’ health, because they are ‘not stressed like they are before a session, they are laughing’.

He continues: ‘Sometimes, it’s easier to communicate with them after an activity. If they don’t have any activities, let’s say for a week, there are no changes. More activities would help.’

Abingdon Court Care Home manager and registered nurse Nyms Sithole echoes Mr Barbu’s comments.

‘The sessions are therapeutic for the residents. Every time the children are around you see the residents’ faces change,’ she says.

'Every time they see children the residents' faces change. The children bring joy to the residents’

Nyms Sithole

Ms Sithole likens the intergenerational session to having the residents’ grandchildren visiting, which makes it a ‘home-from-home feeling’.

The sessions also help the care home staff and nurses, says Ms Sithole.

‘If residents are unhappy it is harder to give personal care. There are some residents who, because of their condition, might have complex needs. Sometimes they can’t take their medication. However, when they see children they want to be a mother, father, grandmother or grandfather. They want to show what is positive. So, it makes it easier to give them their tablets. Every time they see children their behaviour changes. The children bring joy to the residents,’ she explains.

50%

of older people say that television or pets are their main form of company, according to Age UK

It is no surprise that the success of the music group has led Ms Sithole, who has 24 years’ experience of nursing home care, to express a wish ‘if possible, for something similar in most homes’.

The children also benefit from the sessions. Amy Stone has been bringing her son, three-year-old Marius, for nearly six months and has seen his confidence grow because of the visits. She says: ‘It also helps him to understand the home exists and that it’s natural to be among all age ranges.’

Intergenerational interaction as an answer to social isolation?

Isolation among older people is increasing. Age UK estimates that there are 1.2 million older people in the UK who are chronically lonely and that nearly 50% of older people say television or pets are their main form of company. The social gap between generations is growing and although older people are living longer, many are isolated from family members and younger generations because of migration or family breakdown, according to the TOY Project consortium.

The generations are also increasingly separated from each other in same-age institutions such as pre-schools and long-term settings. Closing this gap is important so that children and older people do not miss out on opportunities for interaction, understanding and learning from each other.

(Sources: Age UK, TOY Project consortium)

 

In a nod to the success of the programme Ms Stone and Marius often bake cakes for the residents and visit them outside of the music session.

The Abingdon Court Care Home relies on Ms Shearer holding the sessions for free and hopes to continue them for as long as possible. A downside is a lack of funding for music teachers to hold similar sessions. Ms Shearer says: ‘If there was a model of how you could pay the music leader you would get more music leaders willing to do it.’

Care homes, however, do not have the money to spend on external activity leaders holding sessions like these. Ms Delgado relies on volunteers. 'I am so grateful when Rachel calls and gives us the dates she is coming,' she says.  

Further information

The All Together Now Intergenerational Music group


References

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