There’s been a number of inspirational stories about inter-generational facilities floating about on social media recently. One of the best examples is a retirement village in The Netherlands that allows students to live there for free in return for 30 hours or so a week of doing tasks such as arranging dinner for their elderly housemates as well as generally just spending time with the residents and 'being a good neighbour'.

The results of these interactions have been incredibly positive, with both generations greatly benefiting from the program.

So, how can we take these inspiring examples of mixing generations and bring them to Australia? One innovative NSW aged care group has taken on the challenge with a new inter-generational playgroup.

SummitCare, which has nine facilities throughout NSW, has just started up a playgroup in its residential aged care centre in Wallsend with a select group of residents and local families. Activities include music, singing, art activities and stories.

General Manager of SummitCare Wallsend, Glenn Kirkman says that the benefits of the program have been great – both for their residents and the visiting young families.

“It has been really positive – everyone’s enjoying it,” Kirkman says. “It’s been wonderful to see these effectively grandparent-aged people engaged with babies and toddlers.”

The program, which is being run in conjunction with Playgroup NSW, is still in its early stages – less than three months – but Kirkman says their centre is committed to the playgroup in the long term.

“We have currently got about 12 families that are coming regularly, and bringing them into the aged care facility has opened up a very different world that they weren’t familiar with.” Kirkman says he also hopes that programs such as the playgroup will help to remove some of the stigma that’s attached to aged care.

“Effectively it’s allowing some residents who don’t get a lot of visitation to have young kids come in and they get to touch them, play with them and have positive interactions,” he says.

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Humanitus Deventer in The Netherlands promotes intergenerational living between students and aged care residents (Image: Humanitus Deventer)

So does he see lots of benefits for the residents of the centre? “Absolutely,” he adds. “There has been some research, but clearly it gives a level of engagement that they don’t normally get. It has a very positive effect on memories and recollections, so it takes them back to a different era, when they themselves were parents.” 

“I think that social engagement is a really valuable thing. There is clear evidence it helps with behaviours and there are some cognitive benefits, particularly for those with dementia. There’s less depression; it has been really positive to start – everyone’s enjoying it.”

Parents of the playgroup children have also had the opportunity to make friends and create a network, as well as learn about the life stories of the elderly residents.

Kirkman also mentioned an unexpected positive element of the playgroup – it has helped residents to engage more fully with staff members who have had families, as they have been among the families coming to the group.

“There have been some of our staff members who have had babies,” he adds, “so they have been able to bring their kiddies in, so that’s nice.”

Wallsend SummitCare is a high-care residential facility with 142 residents. Kirman says that his facility will be doing a report for the group and there is a possibility it will be rolled out to more centres down the track.

“Based on the results of this centre they will review that and look to implement that across SummitCare,” he says. “There would be no reason why not from our centre’s point of view.”

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