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Intergenerational project could bring wellbeing benefits to elderly

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An innovative intergenerational initiative which brings together primary school children and care home residents reveals potential benefits to wellbeing for older people, including those living with dementia.

The Maldon UP! project was set up by All Saint's Primary School in Maldon, Essex, as part of its 'Shine' curriculum, a curriculum developed by the staff and governors of the school, which aims to enable children to ‘shine’ in a broad range of ways to ensure a holistic educational experience.

The project, which is now it is third year, involves school children visiting and sharing activities with older people living in a local care home once a week.

Researchers from the Positive Ageing Research Institute at Anglia Ruskin University are collaborating with the initiative and will reveal their preliminary findings from this research at a session entitled Maldon UP! project: exploring the benefits of intergenerational work at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas on Tuesday 22nd October.

Interviews with staff and relatives at Longfield Care Home reveal the positive impact the children’s presence have on the care home environment. The UP! project is very different from the usual activities and entertainment you find in care homes. It breaks care home stereotypes of monotony and quiet and the injection of youth and energy is felt in the atmosphere of the home. One member of staff at the care home says: "You know they’re here, you can feel, it’s the atmosphere, you can feel the difference, you can feel the atmosphere. They’re all so excited and happy when the children come here."

Another member of staff describes how the care home ‘comes alive’ when children come to visit: "It’s like bubbly. You just look forward to seeing them and seeing the adults with the children and their interaction, what they do at the tables and all the different activities and that; it’s really lovely to see…I think it’s very positive. I think it helps people and the home seems to come alive more and yeah, it’s really lovely."

Relatives have commented how the presence of the children promotes a feeling of normality and inclusivity within the community outside the care home: "It normalises it because you’ve got people of all ages which is how society is, isn’t it? And, if you don’t have children around then it’s, part of society is missing, so I think it’s good for them," says one. Another commented: "It brings a little bit of normality and perhaps triggers off memories of seeing their own children do things so it’s a good idea."

The care home residents are described as uniquely transformed by their time with the children and uplifted. A member of staff says: "They bring out the best in the adults, do you know what I mean? They do. I don’t know whether it’s because they’re young or what, but they look at them like their grandchildren.…. It brings a smile to their face and it’s lovely to see."

The children’s visit have also encouraged engagement from residents who might have communication challenges or dementia. Staff have said: "A lot of people sometimes weren’t communicating very well and things like that, but when the children came in you could definitely see that they were engaging’. Another added: ‘And they remembered it. Sometimes people with, like, dementia and things like that, you forget things, but they remembered, which was a good thing."

You can hear more about the results of this research and the benefits to older adults and children involved on Tuesday 22nd October 18.30-19.30, at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas. To book please visit https://www.festivalofideas.cam.ac.uk/events/maldon-project-exploring-benefits-intergenerational-work