Care homes and crèches: How children can benefit older people
The two book end generations share much in common. Unlike people of working age, who are all about squeezing in as much as they can with the time they have available, the youngest and oldest in our society are time rich and activity poor. They exist in the moment, enjoying the simplicity of tending flowers or building Lego, living in a different rhythm to the rest of us.
Despite these obvious similarities, the two generations increasingly live segregated lives. Young people at nurseries and school; older people in retirement communities and care homes. However, following several years of experiments and studies, it’s clear there’s a beneficial correlation between the two.
The concept of encouraging younger people to spend time with older people is nothing new. In fact, across the pond in the US, shared care facilities are increasingly popular with creches based in nursing homes becoming a common sight. In Singapore too, the nation is spending $3bn on co-locating elder care and childcare facilities, in order to “maximise the opportunities for intergenerational interactions”.
This type of shared environment has significant economic benefits, as resources can be pooled and staff costs divided. With both the elderly care and early years childcare industries struggling to remain economically viable, this model makes sense to both groups. But what about the children and adults involved? Will they benefit from such interaction?
The benefits for older adults
Through various studies and experiments, a number of quantifiable benefits have been identified for the adults involved in these types of intergenerational projects, such as:
• Learning: Older adults can learn new technology and innovations from their young companions.
• Energy: Volunteering with children on a regular basis has been shown to burn 20 per cent more calories each week.
• Health: Older adults who engage with children regularly experience less falls, performed better on memory tests and relied less upon walking sticks and canes than before.
• Dementia: Those living with dementia had more positive effects from activities engaging with children than with non-intergenerational activities.
• Happiness: An experiment in Japan found that shared play between the generations brought more smiles, happiness and more conversation into the lives of older people.
Of course, not all of the benefits were easy to quantify, but were apparent to both older people and carers involved in the projects. Having young people around appeared to make older people feel more youthful and energetic. They were encouraged to live in the moment, instead of just watching time pass.
The benefits for children
Interacting with older people has a far-reaching suite of benefits for children too. The precise impacts from these social experiments depended greatly on the ages of the children, as well as the type and frequency of interaction. However, some generalised benefits can be pinpointed, such as:
• Reading: Children who were read to or enjoyed a book with older adults achieved higher reading scores compared to peers at other schools.
• Behaviour: Older children who are engaged in intergenerational projects are less likely to use drugs (46 per cent), less likely to drink alcohol (27 per cent) and less inclined to skip school (52 per cent).
• Learning: There is so much that children can learn from older peers. Simply interacting with someone who is completely disconnected from the text and internet based socialisation of our modern times gives kids a new perspective on relationships.
• Self-esteem: Research in both Australia and in the UK found that including children and older adults in day care together boosted self-esteem and promoted healthy friendships.
Young children are found to be far less discriminatory when it comes to forming friendships, enabling them to see past the wrinkles and hearing losses of their elder peers, and to form deep and meaningful relationships with this other generation. This can help to give them a sense of who they are, and where they come from, even if that person is not a blood relation.
Modern families are increasingly separated by distance and time, and projects such as these are invaluable for bringing the generations together. Here at Fernhill House, although not in a position to open a creche in our home, we absolutely encourage families to bring young people along for visits and interaction. We also regularly invite local schools on to the home. Talk to our team about how you can get the children in your life more engaged with your older relative, and we’ll be pleased to support you.