Learning from each other – Intergenerational Program

If you tuned into the ABC’s groundbreaking series Old People’s Home for Teenagers last year, you would have been hard pressed not to be moved by the participants as they shared their experiences, thoughts and vulnerabilities.

While that intergenerational experiment was airing, a more low-key program pairing young and old was taking shape at Calvary Haydon aged care home at Bruce.

Called Life Stories, it was, as the name suggests, an opportunity for residents and teenage students to come together to learn something of each other’s lives.

As Calvary Haydon’s Diversional Therapist Betty Szuromi explains, the trial program was one of several intergenerational collaborations between Calvary Haydon and nearby Radford College that is bringing mutual benefits:

“Together we are creating ongoing projects that we believe are beneficial for both sides and help foster relationships and promote social engagements between residents and young people.  The aim to bring people together in purposeful, mutually beneficial activities that promote greater understanding and respect between generations and contribute to building more cohesive communities.

The projects have included talented art students coming to conduct fortnightly workshops with residents, and that program is starting again in March.

Life Stories involved students spending blocks of time talking with their paired residents and we saw that ties of friendship developed through the regular communication and that people from different life stages were learning and helping each other.

The benefits of participating in such programs can be numerous for both the young and elderly through supporting emotional, social, cognitive, physical and sensory aspects of their lives.

As we know our residents, we found that it encouraged, motivated and added value to their lives. There were the opportunities for companionship for both the students and our residents, some of whom are living with dementia or are in palliative care, to remember.

In our experience, these programs can help reduce social isolation and depression for residents, who have the chance to be engaged and have increased communication. The residents’ are having obvious fun learning about a younger generation which can help reduce stress and anxiety by keeping their mind busy with positive thoughts. It is a two-way street. They are not just learning; they are sharing their experience and skills, which gives them a sense of purpose and, in some cases, greater self-esteem.

Residents were excited and looked forward to the sessions. There were smiles and laughter. They seemed to put aside or forget any limitations and just enjoy being in the moment.

For the students, it can help them to develop confidence and communication skills with the older generation, develop empathy and listening skills, and provide an opportunity to connect to older people, something that is not always possible for students in today’s lifestyle. They learn to develop the capacity to build relationship with those that are different, helping them stay social.

One boy said how much he enjoyed coming along on Tuesday mornings and the enlightening conversations he had with one of our residents, a retired diplomat. Their discussions ranged far and wide.

He has a very personal and interesting view on life that I can’t really get from anyone else in my social circle. He offers a fresh perspective about things and really encourages me to think deeply about my environment. Above all he’s been really fun to talk to, he’s a really entertaining fellow.”

The level of feeling and respect from our residents was mutual.”