A Teenage Girl With Grandmother In Wheelchair At Home. Family And Generations Concept.

Isolation has a debilitating affect on Aged Care residents, both emotionally and physically. Is Intergenerational Learning the answer?

Do we believe the children are our future?

To live a whole life – of growth, love, learning, relationships, memories – only to end it alone or with strangers is probably one of the saddest things one could ever imagine. And it’s happening. All around us.

Up to 40% of residents in Aged Care have zero visitors for 365 days of the year, Minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt stated earlier this year. An astounding, and heart-breaking fact.

Physical and emotional isolation is debilitating. Humans need interaction, purpose, connection. Our ageing population is no exception.

Back in May, the Onkaparinga council, South Australia, approved a proposal for a development that will see a middle school and an aged care centre co-habitate.

The first permanent intergenerational development of its kind in Australia, both young and old are excited about their shared space.

The proposed development will see 35 middle school students from Southern Montessori School occupy classrooms on the same site as 88 residents of Kalyra Woodcroft Aged Care accommodation, and will be completed in 2019.

It seems a no-brainer. These co-habitations play such an important role for both sides of the pew. So why is this the first of its kind in Australia?

Intergenerational learning is not a new concept. In the US formal Intergenerational Learning programs have been operating since 1965. And here in Australia it’s been on the table for nearly as long.

Educational programs and community services have fostered Intergenerational socialisation for years, but never as a permanent fixture, here in Australia.

The more permanent model is being trialed overseas with the US leading the pack. Oklahoma Enid Public Schools developed a model that has a kindergarten and residential Aged Care sharing facilities, with an ‘open’ classroom policy. The model has been studied and hailed abroad, particularly here in Australia.

In a 2015 report published by the International Specialised Skills Institute (ISSI), Melbourne, whose purpose was to study Intergenerational Learning, studied models in the US, including Oklahoma.

For the children, they found shared spaces and relationships saw:

  • Increased literacy skills and life skills
  • The passing on of knowledge, and
  • Promotion of social acceptance

For the organisations they saw an increase in staff retention, increased staff morale, job satisfaction and a sense of belonging to the community.

And for the Aged Care Residents, they reported:

  • An increase in euphoria,
  • Creating new life memories
  • An increased sense of value and purpose

The results of the study also highlighted an overall improvement in mood, sleeping and mobility for the residents. The interactions said to have given them “a reason to get out of bed in the morning”, and reported that they no longer saw their time in residential care as “waiting for death.”

The risks are there, and health is one. Karen Ferris, nurse of over 40 years, spoke of the risks in a report by Social Care Foundation Australia.

“Tripping is a big one, along with damage to already fragile skin.” Says Ferris, pointing out the potentially hazardous presence of energetic children.

Ferris also makes note of a slight risk the elderly might contract illness from the youngsters – some potentially devastating for weak immune systems.

There’s not a great deal of these risks in the proposed Montessori model however, with the children being slightly older. Though, while the risks aren’t as much in focus as the early childhood models, the benefits are still transferrable.

The South Australian council’s decision is a positive move for Australia and will give us an example to study closer to home and more relevant to our own cultural and industry developments.

While in Brisabane, Professor Anneke Fitzgerald from Griffith University recently secured Federal Government funding to conduct trials of another Australian model, where daycare and aged care share a campus. With psychological issues of this model already proven Fitzgerald’s studies intend to evaluate the health and economic outcomes for Australian Centres.

Fitzgerald believes we can add to the current system, “with innovative models and in a way hoping we are going to help make Australia more age-friendly.”

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