Social activities with children improve the mood and health of residents

An intergenerational program has reduced levels of depression and increased the balancing skills of elderly residents in care, according to an industry summit.

The National Research Institute on Aging held its annual summit on Friday this year on intergenerational programs aimed at promoting the well-being of the elderly.

Dr Stephanie Ward, Clinical Manager and Initiative Manager at the Australian Dementia Network Clinical Quality Registry at the Center for Healthy Brain Aging, was the expert geriatrician on the ABC Old Person’s Home for 4 Year Olds TV show.

The first round of the program, which aired in 2019, involved 11 residents of care and retirement villages and 10 preschoolers aged four.

Participants spent seven weeks together in a preschool classroom for researchers to examine the physical and mental impacts of residents engaging with children.

Dr Stéphanie Ward

At the start of the procedure, four residents tested positive for bad mood or depression on the Geriatric Depression Scale, which is a score out of 15, and many said they felt lonely, Dr. Ward.

“We found some pretty impressive changes,” Dr Ward said at the summit on Friday. “Regarding the Geriatric Depression Scale, three of the four participants who initially tested positive are no longer testing positive,” she said.

“The change in that score out of 15 has gone down by more than two, which is pretty significant,” Dr. Ward said.

There have also been “significant changes” in the physical well-being of residents, she said.

“Fifty percent had an improvement in balance,” Dr. Ward said.

“I remember meeting people at the start and meeting people at the end, and in a few cases… it didn’t even look like the same person. It was really nice to see the changes, ”said Dr Ward.

The impact of the intervention on the children has been increased confidence and empathy, she said.

Impact on home care clients

Following the success of the first series, a second series aired this year and involved seniors living alone at home and four-year-old children.

Dr Ward said the intervention was similar, but put more emphasis on the impact on children and their families.

“We found significant positive changes at the end of this experiment in measures of frailty, measures of mood and measures of quality of life.

“For kids, [we found] increased prosocial skills and improved vocabulary recognition, ”she said.

Dr Ward said the interventions were beneficial because they gave older people a sense of worth.

“Everyone who’s seen the program has their own point of view, but I thought it was all around that sense of purpose. Because the older participants… in the group, for some, that was a reason to stand up.

“A lot of the participants were incredibly smart. They are all incredibly resourceful people who had so much to give the kids and were able to use their immense skills in new ways. It was an opportunity to connect with the kids, but also with other adults, ”said Dr Ward.

She said the program has increased positive attitudes among the elderly.

NARI’s 2021 annual summit took place on November 5.

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Joel C. Hicks