What’s Going On With Intergenerational Care in Australia?

Woman points to something in nature, with two little boys
Photo by Nikoline Arns on Unsplash

“Oh wow. Loved watching. Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds. A Huge thank you to ABC TV + iview. @ABCTV”.

That was one Twitter response from a viewer of ABC’s new documentary, ‘Old People’s Home for 4-Year-Olds’. While intergenerational care is now in the public eye, some aged care facilities around Australia have been experiencing its benefits for years.

Matthew Flinders Home: Intergenerational Playgroup

Since 2017, Matthew Flinders Home residents have been meeting for an hour each week with parents and children from a local childcare centre. Facility manager Danielle Green had heard of intergenerational care and decided to “give it a go” after being approached by an early childcare worker. “Because we saw the benefits of the intergenerational interactions, particularly with our dementia clients. They opened up and became a lot more interactive with the children,” Ms Green said.

That’s not to say playgroup participants have been playing bullrush. As with many intergenerational programs, Matthew Flinders’ residents tend to be less mobile than the ABC documentary residents, and the children are mainly babies and toddlers. This means playgroup activities are less active than some of the ones in the documentary, according to Playgroup facilitator Jo Dibnah.

“Even if there’s not a whole lot of interaction, just the presence of the children in the room just gives joy, so much joy to the residents. It’s just wonderful to see and be a part of,” Mrs Dibnah said.

Rather than walking races, you’re likely to have tea parties and play-dough, and colouring in. Or crawling around on the floor (if you’re a baby!). Mrs Dibnah said she sometimes blows bubbles to encourage the children to interact and finishes every session with a song and dance. “And of course the residents enjoy it too. Even though they secretly say when I get there, “Oh, you’re here again!” we always leave with smiles across the room.”

Some residents weren’t keen on the idea at first. “There’s a handful, a small handful of residents that kind of roll their eyes and think, “Oh, it’s playgroup”. Like there’s one lady in particular who comes to mind who’s been a teacher her whole career, and she’s sort of, “Oh, gosh, I’ve spent my whole life with children, the last thing I want…”. But just recently, actually, she’s been joining in on the fun, and it’s really nice to see that change.”

Benefits of Intergenerational Care

Intergenerational care is known to benefit older people’s wellbeing on several levels. Researchers from Queensland’s Griffith University credit intergenerational care with:

  • Providing a sense of purpose for older adults
  • Enhancing the dignity experienced by older people
  • Altering communities’ perceptions of older adults and the ageing process from negative to positive
  • Improving the social outcomes of older people
  • Encouraging older people to remain living in their home for longer

As for the kids, interacting with a different generation teaches valuable social skills. It’s also an opportunity for relationships with the older generation.

Ageless Play: The Playgroup Model

There are similar intergenerational playgroups across Australia. Ageless Play, run by Playgroup Australia, facilitates more than sixty of these by connecting parents and children with aged care facilities and retirement villages nationally.

Playgroup State and Territory Organisations partnered with ABC TV + iview for ‘Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds’, to raise awareness of the benefits of intergenerational programs. According to Playgroup QLD representative Penny Allen, it’s working! In QLD Ageless Play is receiving much more interest from parents, aged care services and retirement villages since the show went on air.

“Here in QLD we’re working very hard to establish more playgroups. We have eight meeting currently and a few more just about to start,” Ms Allen said.

“Even the parents who can’t really attend the playgroups have been watching the show as well and have been, I guess, ‘enlightened’, if you like! Or have become more familiar with different types of interactions.

In one particular group at least we’ve seen parents becoming more involved and interacting more.”

As for Matthew Flinders Home, Mrs Dibnah might need some help! An unprecedented 14 children came to the Matthew Flinders Home Playgroup the week after the ABC show aired. That’s a lot of bubbles!

Alexandra De Vylder
Author: Alexandra De Vylder

I am a freelance writer who is passionate about helping people live well at any age. I enjoy finding inspiring stories for you!

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