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Intergenerational play group

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When Morty met Milly – bringing together old and young in aged care

Finding time to bring older relatives together with their youngest grandchildren (often their great grandchildren) can be challenging in today’s busy world. The end result is usually infrequent or short visits – and this is when the both parties are lucky enough to live in the same city or country. All too often these get togethers can end in tears.

Older generations may be more likely to have the time and patience for little ones. They also have a lifetime of experiences and stories to share and are likely to have skills that are being underutilised at this stage of their lives.

And nothing can keep you in the present like babies or toddlers! Their open, curious faces and intrigue at the tiniest thing. Their insistence that they have your full attention means aches, pains and losses can’t be focused on and they do say and do some really funny things.

Across the globe, attempts to bridge the gap between old and young are being explored in aged care facilities offering residential care and day programs.

It’s not about turning an area of an aged care facility into a childcare centre and letting everyone just do their thing (with screaming toddlers in the background). Rather it is about bringing the two groups together in planned, meaningful interactions.

Here are a couple of great examples.

The Treasures Playgroup has been running at BUPA Bellarine Aged Care Facility in Victoria since 2007. The Playgroup is held weekly. Residents plan and prepare the activities, which include writing stories for the children, who are aged 0 – 3 years of age. They make decorations, plan games and songs and have even made a fairy garden for the children. Residents and the children’s parents speak about the positive impact the intergenerational playgroup has on their lives.

Group Home Australia and a local Family Day Care run a joint weekly story telling session together at the Group Home residence in St.Ives.

Tamar Krebs, Founder and CEO, Group Homes says the program is very beneficial for all, “for the residents being able to feel needed is a very important part of their day. The children come to the home on a Thursday morning with their favourite book and the residents read to them.”

The children love the experience too. “Sadly many children do not have exposure on an ongoing basis to older people. The program allows for the children to connect in a non threatening space to older people and people living with dementia.” Says Ms Krebs.

Mrs Kreb’s top tip for running an intergenerational playgroup is to make sure someone coordinates the program, “this person should have experience with people with dementia, be able to think creatively and have a few activity options on the day”.

Studies on intergenerational playgroups in Australia and the UK have found that activities including children in aged care day programs can increase self esteem in the older participants and promote friendship. In Japan older participants experienced increased conversation and more smiles when doing shared play with little ones.

Social isolation from the wider community has often been cited as a downside to life in residential aged care. Intergenerational programs seem to be a win-win for all and hopefully we will only see more of them in years to come!