Back to the future

Playing trucks, wearing butterfly wings and pretending to flap them and putting on a big bad wolf and a squeaky piggie voice while reading the Three Little Pigs…

Residents at Uniting AgeWell’s aged care facilities across Victoria and Tasmania are loving spending time with children. Not just little ones, but youngsters of all ages – including swapping stories with teenagers and learning that “hip” and “fully sick” don’t necessarily relate to parts of the body or medical conditions.

It’s called intergenerational interaction. But it’s not rocket science. It’s good old-fashioned wisdom that when older and younger people get together, the magic happens. And it is this back to the future approach that is not only popular but in some cases, life-changing, for older people.

Research shows intergenerational care can improve the quality of life of aged care residents, reduce the risk of developing dementia and combat isolation and loneliness in older people, while children can also benefit, developing higher levels of empathy and social acceptance.

But you don’t need text book knowledge to see that it works. It’s easy to judge by the laughter, the smiles and the lilt in their voices.

Lifestyle Manager Sharon Levey says all Uniting AgeWell residential sites actively engage with young people from those at day care, kindergarten, primary and high schools. Sometimes the children come to the aged care facilities. Other times the residents go on bus trips and visit them. Either way, the magic happens.

“Every age group brings something different to the residents,” explains Sharon. “Babies and toddlers create pure happiness. There is nothing more beautiful than hearing a baby laugh.”

Sharon says there’s also the element of fun. “There is a ‘child’ in all of us. This is an opportunity to be silly, to laugh. It doesn’t matter who you are, when a child offers you an empty tea cup, you pretend to drink it.”

Sharon says interacting with older children is equally rewarding, but in different ways. There’s the sharing of stories, the swapping of ideas, the ability to reflect on what life was like for older people when they were teenagers. Sharon says reminiscing reaffirms a sense of self, which can sadly sometimes get lost over the years. “For example, a resident might end up saying to a teenager, ‘I was once a teacher, I totally understand what you are saying…”

“Ideally residents should interact with young people of all ages,” says Sharon, “Some residents don’t have families of their own, or may have families living overseas or their grandchildren are busy building their own lives and don’t visit often . This gives residents the opportunity to experience the joy of being around young ones.”

It also creates a sense of purpose. The thrill of knowing you got a teenager thinking about being an engineer, or you taught another how to knit. The joy of hearing a toddler repeat a nursery rhyme you have just taught them…

“It goes back to the concept that it takes a village to raise a child,” says Sharon.

The Herd Intergenerational Learning Centre

This concept was taken further with the opening of The Herd Intergenerational Learning Centre (ILC) at Uniting AgeWell Andrew Kerr Care Community in Mornington earlier this year. It is the first centre of its kind in Australia built under the same roof as an aged care facility and it caters for 66 children aged from six weeks to school age.

It taps into the intergenerational approach where the young and the old learn from each other in a continuum of love and care that enriches the lives of both. Not only in the human but in the animal world. The Herd name pays homage to the respect that elephants have for elderly herd members.

Already it’s bringing great benefits to young and old alike. Retired teacher and Andrew Kerr Care resident Barry Smith says The Herd ILC has brought “a greater sense of community into our home, a great enjoyment that enriches the lives of residents and children,” while his wife, Rose, says “everyone brightens up when young ones are around.”

The idea for the concept comes from sisters, early childhood teachers and Herd co-founders, Fiona and Anna Glumac. Touched by the experience of their much adored late grandmother Mary, who spent the last years of her life in residential aged care and moved by a documentary on an intergenerational care centre in Seattle in the USA, the sisters were determined to bring the same model of care to Australia.

“I am confident The Herd will be seen as an exemplar of how intergenerational centres can improve the quality of life for older and younger generations,” says Uniting AgeWell CEO Andrew Kinnersly. “Children bring joy and when young and old get together the dynamic changes and brings with it renewed energy.”

The aged care facility also has intergenerational programs with Mornington Primary and Mornington Secondary schools.

A snapshot of intergenerational activities from some of Uniting AgeWell’s Victorian and Tasmanian sites include:

  • Kalkee Community Murray residents interact weekly with Belmont High School students, including footy tipping and different activities like crafts, cooking and more. They interact with Geelong College Kindergarten children every three weeks including storytelling and treasure hunts. Residents are even putting on a play for the little ones!
  • Newnham Community, Aldersgate Village residents get visits from various grades at John Calvin School twice a month and enjoy singing, craft lessons and morning tea with them. They also interact with three and four year olds at Bungawitta Early Learning Centre where they play bubbles, build sandcastles and do puzzles. And a new partnership with St Finn Barr Kinder Café entails a bus outing to the kinder for some serious play time!

Other intergenerational partnerships include:

  • Box Hill Community
    • Camberwell Grammar
  • Manor Lakes Community
    • Sparrow Day Care Centre
  • Noble Park Community
    • Little Buddhas Club
    • Noble Park Secondary College
  • Preston Community
    • Darebin Childcare and Kindergarten.
  • Queenborough Rise Community
    • Mount Carmel College
Find out more about the Uniting AgeWell Mental Health and Wellbeing Framework here