It is perhaps one of modern society’s most ambivalent acts — bundling our elderly away to be looked after by strangers till death.
But long before aged care homes became the norm, older people often stayed in family homes and played a large role in bringing up children.
Playgroup SA chief executive Craig Bradbrook said the past two decades had seen a worldwide push to reunite the two age groups in support of the old adage “it takes a village to raise a child”.
“I think it’s taken us quite a while as a society to realise the importance of community connection,” he said.
“As our population ages, how do we then engage the elderly back into the community?”
Playgroup SA has established 14 so-called intergenerational playgroups across the state and this week launched its first partnership with Eldercare to bring together pre-schoolers and aged care residents.
Since January, young children and their parents have been mucking about with grandparents and great-grandparents at the Evanston Park aged care facility in Gawler each week.
“Here we have a perfect, almost village-like atmosphere where we see our older people in society, some of our wisest community members, able to connect with our young kids and their parents,” Mr Bradbrook said.
A 2014 research paper cited by Playgroup SA and published in the peer-reviewed journal BMC Geriatrics, found aged care residents, particularly those with dementia, experienced a notable increase in their sense of dignity as a result of intergenerational playgroups.
It alleviated feelings of isolation, loneliness and disengagement from communities, increased self-esteem and happiness, and made them more active in the community.
Eldercare wellbeing and allied health manager Bernard Morrison said if older people needed support in eras past, it would have been provided by the family unit and they would have stayed at home for a much longer time, even until death.
“Of course that model’s changed, and in doing so we’ve lost that natural opportunity for younger and older generations to mingle naturally,” he said.
Mr Morrison said the intergenerational program at Evanston Park had shown “remarkable benefits” for its residents.
“We’ve got a lady here who was frustrated with residential care,” he said.
“She wasn’t living her best life, but she came along to playgroups and staff noticed a huge change of attitude.”Her face just lit up when she was with the children.”
It turned out the resident had been a kindergarten teacher for 20 years.
“It’s not just the joy that the residents experience by playing with the children,” Mr Morrison said.
“It’s also that sense of purpose they get in contributing to the care of that individual child and contributing to the community.”
Gretchen Bartsch resides at the Evanston Park facility with her husband, John, and said the pre-schooler visits were “the highlight of my week”.
But the children, too, have enjoyed the visits, including three-year-old Holly Campbell, who has made many new friends.
“She’s had such a wonderful time colouring in with them and sharing stories,” her mother, Caterina, said.”She now goes into shopping centres and sees an elderly person and runs up to them to talk to them, thinking it’s someone from here.
“It’s made her very aware and very happy to play with them.”
Holly also participated in a 100th birthday for one of the residents.
“She went home to talk about that with her older brother and they were just so amazed that someone could be 100 years old,” Ms Campbell said.
Mr Morrison said Eldercare hoped to expand the program in up to four of its 12 aged care facilities across Australia.
He said the centres were an “enormous and wonderful asset” that would create “exciting opportunities for children to play on our sites”.
This included structured programs with the likes of Playgroup SA, but also by creating safe play areas for children so visitors were more willing to bring them.
“If there’s an opportunity for us to invest in safe play spaces within our sites, and we can create that connection between our residents and their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, then that’s adding even more to what we’re doing through this structured program.”
A list of Intergenerational Playgroups in South Australia can be found here.
This article was originally posted on ABC.net.au by Malcolm Sutton.