A recent article in The Times reports on the revitalising effect of toddlers visiting care homes, suggestive of a ‘prescription’ for depression, and gives a heart-warming picture of how this type of integration can have a positive impact on the wellbeing of residents (Hill, 2019). There is no shortage of news stories, from local and national press to educational sources such as RCNi, describing the health benefits of this type of engagement; and photographs of incredibly happy residents and children are plentiful. Moreover, it has been suggested that these initiatives have a direct impact on positive CQC inspection outcomes, in some cases contributing to an outstanding achievement (Pearce, 2019).
Intergenerational projects are not a new subject; there are documented cases dating back to 1976 of care homes merging with children’s nurseries with great success. Scientific studies, such as the 2013 Japanese study in BMC Geriatrics (Morita et al., 2013), have heralded measurably positive effects. More recently, in the UK, Channel 4’s insightful documentary series “Old people’s home for 4-year olds” demonstrated an outcome of clear, measurable improvements in mood, strength, ability and optimism among the older participants (Channel 4, 2017).
However, care home managers need to take a measured approach in terms of what is logistically possible for their care home, and not get swept along with the tide of reported and pictorial positivity. For example, the Channel 4 study presented a case for daily exposure over a sustained period, hosting the study in a retirement community where none of the older participants were diagnosed with dementia, and all were able to authentically consent to the process. Most care homes will not be able to replicate the conditions of this study, as they will face their own very individual challenges in terms of client group and infrastructure.
Preparation to facilitate visiting children is essential, with an assessment which documents potential risks and evaluates existing, and if needed, revised precautionary measures. Relevant insurance and disclosure/barring regulations should be factored and there must be a mechanism for residents who do not want to engage to opt out. There may also be additional risks to consider if your home caters for those with dementia, particularly if your residents experience an accompanying level of distress.
For dementia homes concerned about risk, a good starting point may be to engage with a school willing to prepare the children using dementia resources before organising a visit. The Alzheimer’s Society have developed tools and resources for teachers to help create a dementia-friendly generation from the comfort of their classroom (Alzheimer’s Society, 2019). At the same time, the care home can start introducing their residents to photographs or letters from the children, to gauge a response and level of interest.
The benefits of intergenerational projects cannot be denied, with wide reporting of positive outcomes, supported by genuine measurable and evidential study. However, activities must be meaningful, and tailored to the individuals’ needs and preferences, with the risks being sensibly and proportionately managed, as no two care homes will be the same (HSE, 2014).
Guest blogger Vickie Wylde RGN,
former care home manager
Alzheimer’s Society. (2019) Dementia teaching resources [Online].
Channel 4. (2017) Old people’s home for 4 year olds. [Online video]. 25 July 2017.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE). (2014) Health and safety in care homes. Norwich, UK: HSE.
Hill J. (2019) Playtime with nursery toddlers revitalises care home residents. The Times 11 March [online].
Morita K, Kobayashi M. (2013) Interactive programs with preschool children bring smiles and conversation to older adults: time sampling study. BMC Geriatrics 13:111.
Pearce L. (2018) Children’s visits bring happy days to nursing home. RCNi 25 May [online].
Age UK. (2018) How care homes and nurseries are coming together for good. Age UK [online].