How do we, the older generation, retain our enthusiasm, wellbeing and joy of life?
Whether moving from full-time to part-time work, retired, or living in an aged care facility, you may be wondering how you will enjoy, fill and get value from your days, and stay healthy during the time once allocated to work and family commitments.
One of the answers comes from a new study by the University of South Australia’s Emeritus Professor Marjory Ebbeck, which suggests intergenerational relationships – aging parents, adult children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren – are the way to go.
These relationships, she finds, can provide significant value in boosting self-worth, social connections and wellness.
“In return, children enjoy a close and respectful relationship with grandparents, with the opportunity to learn more about their family culture and stories,” Prof Ebbeck says.
As well as investigating intergenerational relationships in Australia, the study also investigated cultural differences between family life in Western and Asian (Singapore and Hong Kong) societies.
In contrast to many Asian cultures in which grandparents are integrated into family life, often live with their children and play an active role in their grandchildren’s education and development, many older Australians, through necessity, spend their later years away from their families. Many go to residential health care facilities and suffer loneliness.
“In Singapore and Hong Kong there is still a strong Confucian tradition of filial piety and respect for the elderly, and this respect can lead to grandparents having a stronger sense of identity and purpose,” Prof Ebbeck says.
“These increased intergenerational interactions also provide more social connections for grandparents.”
But while cultural and societal values differ across nations, the wisdom and knowledge that grandparents can share is universal.
Lorraine McGrath, is retired and has been available to be involved in the development of her two grandchildren.
She says her life has been nourished on many levels by the relationship and believes the same could be said for her 25-year-old grandson and 9-year-old granddaughter.
In fact, she has accepted an invitation to her grandson’s 26th birthday and later in the month will travel to Sydney to attend the party.
Lorraine found that as she aged, friends either moved away or become inclined to stay at home. Taking her granddaughter to netball and doing school pick-ups provided a new set of friends and things to do.
On top of that, she has been able to access their computer knowledge. In fact, she recalls when her young grandson, who been very patient in teaching her computer skills, finally said: “Can we stop now Nana, teaching you is giving me a headache!”
Elizabeth Woods, 63, is a grandmother to three boys and a girl under four, works part-time and with all the grandchildren living interstate, says a key word in her life is “prioritisation”. As a single grandmother, she says this is particularly necessary.
“Everything is about prioritising, so I am able to spend time with the grandchildren,” she says.
The benefits of engaging with the grandchildren have been enormous and mutual: “Playing with them brings back memories, it makes me let go and brings out a playfulness in me.”
She also acknowledges that young families have a lot to contend with, and it’s not all easy.
“So, when appropriate, I’m also there to calm the stormy waters,” she says.
After raising five children, Fay and Lincoln Chant are now retired, and the family has grown to include five grandchildren. The extended families all live nearby and play an important part in their lifestyle.
They are happy to have the various families popping in and out of the house a few times a week and to mind the children so the parents can have a night out or a few days away. They also enjoy going to the grandchildren’s various concerts and sporting events.
Fay says it’s good to do fun things with the kids and impart knowledge at the same time. According to their various ages, that could mean teaching them the names of fruit and vegetables when they go shopping or reinforcing good manners.
“But I couldn’t do it full-time,” Fay admits. “A few days a week is fine.”
These mutually positive results were echoed in the 2019 ABC television program Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds.
The unique social experiment, which united a group of aged care and retirement home residents with a group of pre-schoolers for daily activities, sought to see if intergenerational relationships could improve the health and wellbeing of older people.
A team of experts in aged care health, geriatric health and wellbeing, child development and physiotherapy were employed to oversee the social experiment.
Team member, Susan Kurrle, a geriatrician and professor at the University of Sydney says season one of the show proved the experiment could work in residential aged care. Yet, 1.6 million Australians over the age of 65 live on their own at home, many potentially lonely and isolated and suffering health issues.
This data prompted producers to make a second season, specifically to research if intergenerational contact could help reduce age decline and improve the health and happiness of older Australians, thus keeping them living in their own homes for longer.
It also examined how the interactions built confidence in the elderly to find greater connections within their local communities. The show was huge success and provoked more than 1000 people to email Prof Kurrie with their comments.
They were all impressed, with one lady sharing how she and other retired teachers were so inspired by the show that they became volunteers and now visit several aged care facilities in Melbourne. Other aged care centres looked to emulate the experience.
Above all, Prof Kurrle says, this research shows that 40-50 per cent of aged care residents do not get any visitors. The biggest and best results, she says, came from raising awareness of what it’s like in residential care, the loneliness of people living in residential care and the way it is very different from living in the community.
She sees intergenerational care as having the power to change aged care and improve quality of life and health outcomes. Similarly, many hope the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety which handed down its final report in March, will result in meaningful change.
One of the many recommendations is that older people are entitled to receive support and care that acknowledges the aged care setting is their home and enables them to live in security, safety and comfort with their privacy respected.
Professor Kurrle, who worked for the Royal Commission as a medical advisor, believes the Commission’s recommendations, particularly establishing a new Aged Care Act, go a long way towards improving the system.
Prof Ebbeck’s report also confirms that close intergenerational ties could support Australia’s oldest and youngest citizens.
And finally, a quote from George Bernard Shaw: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
THE GRANDSCHOOLS PROJECT
A DIVERSE team from Queensland University of Technology, Australian Catholic University, and Western Sydney University has come together to deepen relationships, connectivity, and understandings between generations.
Working with industry partners to investigate shared campuses, the national GrandSchools health and medical research project includes improving intercultural understanding and reducing social isolation for seniors, in line with with the Change of Culture recommendation of IQCRAC (Inquiry into the Quality of Care in Residential Aged Care).
The model aims to create intentional space for co-learning, co-care, co-fitness and co-creation benefiting health, wellbeing, and continued learning of residents and students.
Four key projects will gather multidisciplinary knowledge to support development of the model.
- Cooperative Spaces project will focus on the health and wellbeing benefits from student and older adults engaging in intergenerational co-operative programs.
- Youth Social Enterprise project aims to understand and maximise the impact of intergenerational programs on student and older adults’ attitudes
- Inclusive Campus Environments project will explore the feasibility of planning and built environment models which integrate, co-situate or connect existing education and senior living environments
- Decision Network Tool project will explore the feasibility of developing a network tool which captures regulatory policy, governance models, economic factors, campus planning, and campus decision features required to implement healthy intergenerational programs.
To support the building of intergenerational relationships The Australian Institute for Intergenerational Practice Limited (AIIP) a not-for-profit charity founded was founded in 2021 by Emeritus Professor Anneke Fitzgerald and a dedicated team.
Anneke is a leading researcher of intergenerational practice in Australia and was involved in production of the well-loved ABC series Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds.
The AIIP’s mission is to bring together intergenerational stakeholders to advance mutually beneficial, evidence-based intergenerational activities to generate inclusive, age-friendly communities for children, teenagers, older adults, families and carers, the workforce, volunteers and the wider community. Their goals include:
CAREER ESTABLISHMENT Create a basis to develop a new career path for healthcare professionals in aged care, teachers and educators.
ACCREDITATION STANDARDS Develop accreditation standards for intergenerational practice that organisations can use to guide implementation and evaluation of services.
TOOLKITS Establish evidence-based best practice guidelines for intergenerational practice in Australia.