Construction has begun on one of Australia’s first shared-roof intergenerational care facilities which will provide life-changing interactions between aged care residents and young children.
The Herd Intergenerational Learning Centre (The Herd) is being built under the same roof as the Uniting AgeWell Andrew Kerr Care Community facility in Mornington, Victoria.
Caring for up to 66 children aged from six weeks to four years, The Herd boasts a curriculum that engages neighbouring aged care residents in weekly collaborative activities.
Created by sisters and early childhood teachers, Anna and Fiona Glumac, the development was inspired by their much adored late grandmother, Mary, who spent the last year of her life in a residential aged care facility.
“Our project is for her,” Anna says.
“When our beautiful grandma made the transition to residential aged care, it was heartbreaking to see some of her spark fade.
“She lit up around young children, so a program like this would have been life giving.”
In 2017, the Glumac sisters were so moved by a documentary on an intergenerational care centre in the US city of Seattle that, the very next day, they began their journey to bring the same model of care to Australia.
“The next day, we penned the letters to CEOs all around Australia,” Anna tells Aged Care News.
“Some of the challenges were ensuring that the demographic also suited childcare…, some existing aged care homes just didn’t have enough space.
“And also just the budget, so many aged care homes are running on a really tight string.”
After years of grant writing, public fundraising and an intensive search for the right provider to collaborate with, the cutting edge facility is finally in construction, with its doors set to open early 2023.
Their philosophy of intergenerational learning is embedded in their chosen title, ‘The Herd’, which pays homage to the respect elephants have for elderly herd members.
“The establishment of strong and meaningful relationships is really foundational to our intergenerational project,” Anna says.
She and her sister hope that the project will make for both better social and academic outcomes for children in their care, as well as alleviating some of the isolating effects of life in residential aged care for elders.
“Australians in residential aged care report feeling more lonely than those living in the community, and up to 40 per cent of people in residential aged care do not receive any visitors at all.”
Aged care residents will be able to visit a lounge space and watch the children play, which Fiona hopes will add a much needed boost of joy to residents’ days.
“Our project is unique because residents will have the opportunity to come to the childcare centre and experience the joy of seeing and hearing the children in play whenever they are feeling lonely,” Fiona adds.
Andrew Kinnersly, Uniting AgeWell CEO, says that he is proud to be facilitating this cutting edge mode of care.
“There is a large body of research to prove that intergenerational programs can improve the quality of life of residents, while also being of great benefit to younger participants.
“Enabling older people living in residential care to continue to contribute and to engage with their community is extremely important, it’s why we are excited by the opportunities this innovative, shared-roof intergenerational learning centre presents to both young and old.”
Described as a “win-win” by researchers, emerging evidence suggests that intergenerational care models can reduce the risk of developing dementia and combat isolation and loneliness in the elderly, whilst children can benefit from developing higher levels of empathy.
In order to foster these intergenerational connections, both groups will come together regularly to share scheduled activities, including art, music and storytelling.
Anna says that The Herd curriculum has been structured so that activities can be tailored to the preferences of participants, but that each day of the week will have a consistent theme to provide structure and security.
“Kids love predictability and so do the older adults; it makes our brains feel safe.”
An example schedule for the The Herd is as follows:
- Movement Monday: gentle stretches,
- Tell me Tuesday: elders sharing wisdom, participants sharing trinkets,
- Wonderous Wednesday: science experiments, puzzles,
- Thoughtful Thursdays: Community outreach program, feel-good things to benefit the community outside The Herd,
- Nature Fridays: getting out and enjoying the fresh air and nature.
According to Professor Terry Haines, an intergenerational care researcher at Monash University’s National Centre for Healthy Ageing, this sort of structure will enable best possible outcomes for both parties.
“There has been some evidence reviews done that have been published over the last couple of years that have really looked at being intentional with the programs.
“Some programs, for example, have older adults helping with learning programs or artistic programs, making sure the older adults are trained and adequately equipped, so you’re not just throwing them in at the deep end.
“It’s one thing to create a space where people can go to, but it’s another thing to really design it well, to make sure that the interactions are meaningful — that there’s a goal but it’s focused on particular activities.
“That appears to elevate it to another level.”
Acknowledging the research suggesting positive social and cognitive benefits, Haines says The Herd will provide a rich opportunity to develop a rigorous, academic understanding of how such programs can improve health and educational outcomes in the Australian context.
“The initiative at The Herd, physically co-locating aged care residents alongside childcare and being able to have environments that are purposely designed for those sorts of interactions, that sort of thing is only in its infancy…
“This is a great example of that kicking the ball off and getting it rolling.
“Now that these sorts of centres have been built and developed, we’re going to have the capacity to be able to look at those sorts of issues now in a lot more detail.”
The Glumac sisters, who will work as directors of the care centre, are excited at the prospect of enabling proof-of-concept trials that will inspire the uptake of intergenerational care Australia-wide.
“There is a lot of research right now on the psychosocial benefits of intergenerational care, so we’ll be trying to get some quality data as well, to add and upscale the existing research,” Anna says.
“Our biggest goal is to act as a model for other individuals and organisations interested in establishing a shared-campus-model of intergenerational care.
“Through that we would really love to build a greater force for good.”