Worldwide boom in intergenerational care programs

Published on Tuesday, 09 July 2019
Last updated on Monday, 30 December 2019

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There's been a global rise in the number of early childhood centres inviting aged care residents to interact with their preschoolers, and it's not hard to see why. Intergenerational care can fill social gaps for both the young and the elderly, offering children an opportunity to learn while supporting older people in feeling energised and less socially isolated.

West Australian Catholic-run community service provider, MercyCare, has been organising visits from aged care residents to its 12 Perth-based early learning centres for five years and is a great example of an intergenerational care program in action.

MercyCare leading the way

According to ABC News, it took only one visit for MercyCare to see the enormous potential that meetings between young and old could have.

"These residents can teach our children so much and that’s priceless for us," said Rosina Smith, manager of MercyCare's early learning centres.

"They get opportunities to show respect and compassion, which are some of our basic care values, and the joy that it brings and the stories that are told are just so touching."

The aged care residents are energised by their visits to MercyCare's early learning centres from the moment they walk through the door and the opportunity for physical activity has also been beneficial for their overall wellbeing.

"The residents can socially interact with children that they may not have in their own lives and vice versa," said Ms Smith.

"A lot of our children don't have elderly people in their life so to engage and interact and experience that…parents love it."

In addition to young children, MercyCare's aged care facility in Joondalup has also been welcoming weekly visits from Belridge Secondary Education Support Centre's Year 11 students for 10 years now which has been beneficial for both groups as well.

Research paves the way for intergenerational care

The Intergenerational Care Project led by Queensland's Griffith University on the Gold Coast, is a two year research project funded by Dementia and Aged Care Services (DACS) examining the effects of children being cared for alongside older people, both in shared environments and where one group visits the other.

Commencing in 2017, a report is to be released soon with their findings, however the researchers are already positive with Griffith University's Dr. Xanthe Golenko telling ABC News that she believed intergenerational care models could play an integral part in reforming the industry, especially considering Australia is facing a growing aging population.

"We've been so segregated in terms of trying to cater for specific populations with a certain context…now we're sort of realising that actually it's just created this really disconnected society," she said.

"Even how childcare sits under education whereas aged care sits under health, things are very siloed and institutionalised, and I think these programs really help to break down some of those institutional barriers."

The benefits of intergenerational care

According to the Intergenerational Care Project website, there are many benefits of these programs for both children and the elderly:

For children:

  • Provides an opportunity to learn from and connect with the older generation.
  • Improves the behaviour children show towards older people in general.
  • Improvements in children's social behaviours of sharing, helping, and cooperating.
  • Decreases the likelihood of juvenile delinquency in later life.

For elders:

  • Provides older adults with a sense of purpose.
  • The dignity they experience is enhanced.
  • Communities' perceptions of older adults and the ageing process is altered from negative to positive.
  • Social outcomes of older people are improved.
  • Older people are encouraged to remain living in their home for longer.

Bringing back community connection

MercyCare's director of residential life services, Margaret Ingleton, is another advocate for integrating aged care into the community with the organisation planning to build WA's first intergenerational campus in Cannington.

"We've been connected all our lives, we're social animals," she said. "Just because you've grown older doesn't mean you want to be isolated, and it's very easy to become isolated, so it's so important that we all do our utmost to minimise that occurring."

She told ABC News that the new centre makes perfect sense after seeing firsthand the positive impact bringing together people from all generations could provide.

"We feel that aged care of the future, an essential part of it, is that it must be within the community, not isolated – that is just contemporary aged care."

Incorporating the elderly into your centre

There are many ways that early learning centres and early childhood educators can introduce an intergenerational program into their setting. Here are some suggestions:

  • Communicate your desire to incorporate more interaction with the elderly and the potential benefits involved with the parents so everyone is informed and on board. You might be surprised at what ideas they have.
  • Reach out to a local aged care facility and explore the possibility of an arranged visit with a number of the elderly residents to your centre. If the experience is received well, more regular visits could be put in place as a permanent program.
  • Educators working as nannies, au pairs, or in family daycare could arrange for regular visits to an aged care facility with the children under their care to interact with the residents.
  • Encourage grandparents and older guardians to visit your setting and engage with the children via talks, story time, teaching skills and more.
  • Celebrate the elderly in your centre by talking about older generations, why they're important for their community and what we can learn from them.
  • Where appropriate, hire older employees to create diversity and normalcy within your centre for regular interaction with the elderly.

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