Integrating care is part of the NHS Five Year Forward View, which aims to improve the NHS and subsequently improve the physical and mental health of patients. Connecting Care for Children (CC4C) is a fantastic model which strives to achieve this.
Integrating care creates better care for patients, bringing the focus back to patients and their needs. As a GP trainee, working in paediatrics at St Mary’s Hospital, I was very excited to be given the opportunity to be involved with CC4C.
Improving patient care is not just about physical health, but mental health and quality of life as a whole; it includes education, financial, housing and relationship support. I had previously done clinical audits and looked at improving referral pathways, patient safety, etc. However, I had not yet delivered a project where I could improve the quality of life and help society, all in one go. So when I first heard that the lead dementia nurse had an idea – to bring children and patients with dementia together – I jumped at the chance to get involved, and what a journey it has been.
Inspired by the recent Channel 4 documentary ‘Old People’s Home for Four-Year-Olds’ (1), we are now coordinating an intergenerational workshop, in the format of a Christmas party. We have designed the afternoon for 10 school children (aged six to seven years old) and a cohort of elderly patients, from the rehab wards and geriatric wards, creating intergenerational interactions, team-building skills, fun and enjoyment. The elderly patient cohort are putting up Christmas decorations as we speak!
So, how do the elderly benefit from this project? Being in hospital is lonely and socially isolating at the best of times, but at Christmas, when you are supposed to be surrounded by your loved ones, this can be even worse. Therefore we want to give the elderly something to look forward to and enjoy. Many studies have shown positive impacts on the elderly from intergenerational projects, including increased mental capabilities, less depression, less isolation, an increased sense of wellbeing and contribution to a community (2, 3, 4, 5, 6). At a time of an expanding ageing population, helping the elderly has never been more pertinent.
How do the children benefit from this experience? It is common for children to fear hospitals and sometimes even fear the elderly. Children often no longer live with and care for their elderly relatives. As a result, this has created a detachment from the elderly. We believe that this project will help to change these common perceptions. Studies have shown that children can benefit from intergenerational projects: they gain an increased knowledge of the ageing process, improved communication skills (particularly with adults), increased respect for older adults, a fuller understanding of different life experiences and a deeper appreciation for community (2, 4, 5, 6). And who knows, maybe we can inspire some of the children to become health professionals when they are older!
As you can probably tell, I am very enthusiastic about this project. To my surprise, most people that we have spoken to – including infection control – have also been enthusiastic. I feel overwhelmed at how interested, supportive and willing to help colleagues have been. This really shows that if the outcome is something which people are enthusiastic about, the pathway to that point meets less resistance. I would be lying if I said that no one had criticised this idea, but it is these criticisms which can help to improve the project and are therefore welcomed.
In a world where we are striving to make changes to the NHS and improve patient care with limited financial backing, it is inevitable that some projects will be met with animosity. However, our end goal is a common one: we want to improve physical and mental health care for patients.
I have learnt so many things as part of this journey: leadership, communication and feedback skills, to name a few. These are all incredibly important for my future as a GP who wants to make a difference and change healthcare for the better. Therefore it is not just the elderly patients and the children but also myself and my colleagues involved in this project who have benefited.
I will let you know how the Christmas party goes!
Channel4.com (2017) Old People's Home for 4 Year Olds - All 4. [online] Available at: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/old-peoples-home-for-4-year-olds [Accessed 1 Nov. 2017].
Morita, K. and Kobayashi, M. (2013). Interactive programs with preschool children bring smiles and conversation to older adults: time-sampling study. BMC Geriatrics, 13(1)
Camp, C. and Lee, M. (2011). Montessori-Based Activities as a Transgenerational Interface for Persons With Dementia and Preschool Children. Journal of Intergenerational Relationships, 9(4), pp.366–73.
Yasunaga, M., Murayama, Y., Takahashi, T., Ohba, H., Suzuki, H., Nonaka, K., Kuraoka, M., Sakurai, R., Nishi, M., Sakuma, N., Kobayashi, E., Shinkai, S. and Fujiwara, Y. (2016). Multiple impacts of an intergenerational program in Japan: Evidence from the Research on Productivity through Intergenerational Sympathy Project. Geriatrics & Gerontology International, 16, pp.98–109.
Chung, J. (2009). An intergenerational reminiscence programme for older adults with early dementia and youth volunteers: values and challenges. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, 23(2), pp.259–264.
Skropeta, C., Colvin, A. and Sladen, S. (2014). An evaluative study of the benefits of participating in intergenerational playgroups in aged care for older people. BMC Geriatrics, 14(1).