Intergenerational care: the Christmas party report

In December, I wrote about our collaboration with the dementia team to organise a Christmas party. This was devised as an intergenerational workshop designed around interaction and team building between generations. Our aim was to combat social isolation and create wellbeing in older people and people with dementia. We also wanted to identify whether children involved in the programme would benefit and see how it would change their perceptions of hospital and the elderly. I can now report that the Christmas party went exceptionally well, better than we could have expected!

Ten schoolchildren, aged six to seven years of age, from Laurel Lane Primary School, attended with their teacher and two teaching assistants – who came on their day off! Seven inpatients joined us from the Albert ward and Lewis Lloyd ward. The afternoon was run by the very talented Dr Nikki Abraham from the Central School of Speech and Drama. The team building exercises included designing, creating and re-enacting stories, singing, wrapping presents and decorating Christmas trees.

The children had a wonderful time. The afternoon was filled with their laughter, happiness and enjoyment. They interacted really well with the older patients and together showed great teamwork with their tasks and games. As part of our data analysis, we asked the children to fill in a questionnaire, as homework, before and after the event. This data has shown that they really enjoyed themselves and that we changed perceptions of hospitals and the elderly for the better. For example, before the event, children used words such as ‘scary’ to describe the elderly. After the event, descriptions included: ‘nice, helpful, kind’. Both the children and the teacher would like to attend future events, and we can’t wait to organise them!

Patients benefited significantly from the event. Patients with dementia seemed to benefit the most. Weeks later we spoke to a patient with dementia who remembered the event and the people, saying ‘it was the biggest thing ever’. Low mood in patients was also noted to have been improved. Patients were laughing, joking and really enjoying themselves. Staff were amazed by patients’ improved mood and their change in personality. This was a valuable reminder that patients are vulnerable and unwell when they are in hospital, which may cause them to act out of character. A patient with a history of severe pain was overheard telling the children, ‘thank you for helping me forget my pain for the afternoon’. These are just some examples of the benefits produced as a result of our intergenerational workshop. There is huge potential for this type of work in the future. We have shown that you do not always need expensive drugs, state of the art technologies and money, to make an improvement in quality of life and patient care. When the NHS is so stretched for money, perhaps this is the way in which we need to start thinking.

The staff also had a fantastic time. They said they felt ‘privileged to be part of it’ and afterwards felt ‘lifted’, ‘happy’ and ‘positive’. The collaboration between paediatric and geriatric teams allowed us to realise the similarities between paediatric and geriatric work styles and how both teams would benefit from working closer together and learning from one another. We are therefore going to enhance these relationships and we look forward to seeing more benefits in the future.

This was a very successful event and we are extremely excited about continuing to use intergenerational practice, in different ways, to positively impact the lives of children and the elderly.