By Nicole Wernert
What happens when you combine a group of curious 10-11 year olds and couples living with dementia in a super social environment? Magic Happens
There are not many people who aren’t aware of the hugely popular iView program Old Peoples’ Home for 4 Year Olds, and the incredible changes that were seen for both the aged care residents and the pre-schoolers. There is some brilliant evidence that intergenerational programs have benefits for people with dementia too.
Umbrella Dementia Cafés own intergenerational program has been running in partnership with Blackburn Primary School since October 2016 – starting out with a just a few students who helped out at a café, to now being an accepted educational program that is hugely popular with the grade 5 students.
The Healthy Ageing Program at Blackburn Primary School aims to promote awareness of dementia diseases and brain health. We are reducing the stigma associated with disability and ageing, and introducing the children to the relationship between positive social connections and improved quality of life in older age. The Healthy Ageing Program combines both the formal lessons about how the brain works with visits to the Umbrella Cafe, Blackburn. Ask any one of our participating students and they’ll tell you what the hippocampus does.
But it’s the visits to the Umbrella Café, Blackburn that makes this program so popular. We learnt that students had very little personal experience of dementia prior to attending the café, and understandably, more than half experienced some fear and nervousness before their visits. Yet once they were there and warmed up to the situation (a bit of cake, didn’t hurt either!) students easily connected to at least one older adult. Many were keen to carry on the relationship post-café, and most wanted to repeat the experience. Many of the students found the experience taught them a lot about themselves, realising that pushing through the fear and being curious can create an amazing experience! Sometimes it was as simple as engaging in nostalgic activities or games to connect with people living with dementia.
But for all of us lucky enough to be involved in this program, it is seeing the faces of the café members light up each time the children enter the room! It is seeing the smiles on everyones faces as each person, across each generation, enthusiastically socialise and participate in activities together, all finding ways to stay connected…that is when the real magic happens.
About the author – Nicole is a parent and volunteer at Blackburn Primary School. When she is not parenting or volunteering with the BPS-UDC Healthy Aging Program she is working as a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Council for Educational Research. She is passionate about education and the transformational impact of learning at all ages.