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Care home project a boost for young and old alike

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An intergenerational project that sees children visit care home residents regularly to play games and chat has helped foster a sense of community and provides an emotional boost for old and young alike, according to a research evaluation.

Researchers from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) have been evaluating the Maldon Up! project, which sees between 12-15 Year 6 schoolchildren from All Saints’ Church of England Primary School in Maldon regularly visit nearby Longfields care home for the past two years

The project, supported by the NHS Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), encourages interaction between the generations, normally built around seasonal themes or learning at the school, to serve as a basis for conversations to take place between the children and the adults. Activities also include board games, arts and crafts, and tablet-based activities that are suitable for those residents with dementia.

Researchers interviewed care home staff, participants and teachers and found that children have been able to learn through the life experience of the older people in a different environment to a classroom.

Some children have been observed to grow in confidence and displayed emotional awareness and empathy towards the older adults – with many reflecting on what life might be like for them.

Many care home residents have been described as “uniquely transformed” by their time with the children, with care home staff reporting that many residents have experienced uplift in mood, and look forward to the next visit of the pupils.

Researchers also found that speaking to the children and taking part in activities sometimes provides a trigger for retrieval of long-term memories regarding the older adults’ own childhoods.

Rebecca Chandler, Research Assistant for ARU’s Positive Ageing Research Institute (PARI), said: “The experiences of the children, older adults and the care home staff have been overwhelmingly positive. There were initial concerns about how children might interact with some of the adults with dementia, but these concerns were quickly negotiated and relieved.

“The journey and progress has been remarkable. The project provides children with an understanding of ageing, dementia and the lives of others, but they have also benefited from drawing upon the life experience of the residents and found that stimulates their own learning.

“The atmosphere in the care home has been enlivened and uplifted, and this spills over into the care home staffs’ work environment, who described the infectiousness with which the older adults’ joy had affects them and their approach to work.”

Dan Doherty, Director of Clinical Transformation at NHS Mid Essex CCG, said: “We are very supportive of All Saints’ CofE Primary School in its pupils’ engagement with Longfield Care Home residents. We’re very pleased to learn more from PARI about how this intergenerational project has benefited both the people living with dementia and the youngsters visiting them.

“I must declare an interest in this story outside of my CCG role, as I also chair the school’s Board of Governors. It’s been a pleasure to be involved in such an uplifting project through two different routes.”

The project was named Maldon Up! because of similarities with the Pixar film of the same name where a child befriends a lonely elderly man.

It was initially funded by All Saints’, but latterly received funding from the Essex Community Foundation, Provide, Essex County Council and individual community donations. Further funding is being sought for the project to continue. You can see the video we made about the project below.