Our intergenerational event

On 4th April 2019 I had the opportunity to take part in an intergenerational workshop at Charing Cross hospital.

These workshops are organised by Dr Charlotte Lance (Intergenerational Fellow) in collaboration with the dementia team with the aim of increasing understanding and positive interactions between young people and the elderly. This programme was initially inspired by research which revealed positive outcomes with improved communication and team working skills, as well as an uplift in the overall mood and sense of wellbeing of both groups.

The intergenerational workshop has now been running for a few months with the involvement of various primary school children in the area, hosted in various places including St Mary’s Hospital and Charing Cross Hospital.

We were joined by 10 primary schoolchildren, aged five to seven years old, from Melcombe Primary School. Members of The Wallace Collection team organised and led the creative activity. Children and patients were encouraged to work together as a team to teach each other about the colours in the rainbow and ultimately create a rainbow collage.

The session was well received by both the children and the elderly. One particular aspect I noted was how interested and curious the children were in the health of the elderly as they interacted, perhaps for the first time, with unwell patients. For example, one particular patient had a catheter, which prompted children to ask ‘why is he carrying a bag of blood?’ and ‘is he ok? Is that why he is in hospital?’ Allowing children to be exposed to the elderly in this setting at an early stage assists in developing their knowledge of the ageing process and encourages development of empathy towards a large cohort of the population with whom they may not have had much interaction prior to this.

Several children repeatedly asked about one particular patient who did not attend that day’s session. I later learned that this patient had been a regular attender of previous intergenerational workshops, but had been too unwell to attend. The dementia team reported that the patient’s cognitive state can vary from day-to-day and that at previous sessions, although always willing to take part, was relatively introverted and offered only minimal engagement with the children. Despite this, her absence was noted by many of the children at the workshop, further highlighting the impact even such brief interactions have in starting to build long-term bonds.

From the patients’ point of view the positive impact was also evident. Afterwards one of the patients said she thoroughly enjoyed the session, describing it as a unique experience that she had never had before. She also enjoyed being able to teach the young children about the colours of the rainbow and was surprised to find that she still remembered the mnemonic she was taught in school when she was their age to help remember the order of the colours.

One of the key challenges with the workshop is recruiting appropriate patients for the session. Of course, patients admitted to hospital are unwell and although they are likely to benefit most from such sessions, careful decisions need to be made about who is deemed to be appropriate. Another challenge is patients initially consenting to take part and later having a change of heart, due to pain or fatigue. Following the positive feedback we have received thus far we are keen to continue these workshops in the future and are confident that we are likely to see a powerful change in positive outcomes for both children and the elderly.