Depression and feelings of isolation are common among seniors with dementia and meaningful
social interactions can make a big difference.
By bringing together seniors and enthusiastic kindergarten students, Runnymede Healthcare Centre provides patients under its care with an opportunity to connect with young children. The benefits are undeniable, as the quality of life for
the seniors involved has been transformed.
The intergenerational program brings in kindergarteners from the nearby Swansea Public School to participate in shared activities and projects with Runnymede’s senior citizen patients. Held on-site at the hospital once per month throughout the school year, activities are designed to encourage as much interaction as possible between the generations and include games, crafts and group fitness.
The excitement the students bring when they visit the centre is palpable and has an extremely positive impact on the experience of seniors, boosting their engagement when they interact. Since the same students participate over the course of an entire school year, strong bonds often form over time, providing the seniors with a unique opportunity to share their knowledge and experience
with a younger age group.
“The children really enjoy being able to visit and help some of our patients with activities, and our patients love the energy the children bring to the program,” says Sarah King, Runnymede’s manager of activation and volunteer services. “The kids are great because they’re so accepting of everyone just the way they are—we definitely see that our patients let their guard down with the children, and their personalities open right up.”
Targeting needs and interests
Through surveys and direct observation, the hospital staff continues to ensure that the intergenerational program is targeted to the seniors’ needs and interests. Overall satisfaction among those who participate is high, and seniors report positive changes in their overall mood. Hospital staff have also noted that seniors have higher levels of involvement and engagement in other hospital activities
and become more socially engaged with peers and staff overall. These impressive outcomes have led to the intergenerational program being recognized at a May 2018 best practices conference for rehab organizations in the Greater Toronto Area.
And it is not just the seniors who benefit. Children are provided with an opportunity to develop a greater appreciation for senior citizens and are helped to become comfortable around people with different types of disabilities. According to Rebecca Forte, a teacher at Swansea Public School, the kids are learning important lessons about empathy. “They understand that patients may not always be able to communicate in familiar ways, but they are still involved and understand what is happening. “Many kids today don’t live close to grandparents like kids of earlier generations; having a chance to interact with older people in the community is so valuable for them.”
As a result of the hospital’s drive to constantly improve, the program was recently expanded to enhance the benefits that seniors receive by taking the ambitious step of broadening it to a full week. In addition, the kindergarten curriculum has been integrated into the goals and objectives of selected activation programs, and seniors and students share lunch together every day.
The intergenerational program’s expansion has been a resounding success and is part of an ongoing trend in which continuous quality improvement and delivering an outstanding patient experience are top priorities.
“Fostering socialization and promoting our patients’ mental and emotional health is crucial to our patients achieving overall health and wellness, and the intergenerational program does just that and we’re very proud of it,” says King. “The evidence shows we’re achieving our intended results and we plan to develop the program further so it can continue to be a rich and rewarding experience for everyone involved.”
Runnymede’s intergenerational program creates a unique environment where kindergarten students and senior citizen
patients can interact and enrich each other’s lives.