Intergenerational Programs in Nursing Homes Good for the Young and Old

The IsabellaGeriatricCenter in New York city has an innovative program, really a culture of connecting the generations. Their Project N.O.I.S.E.E. (Naturally Occurring Interactions in a Shared Environment Everyday) is an intergenerational program that grew out of a partnership formed between their on-site childcare center and their Therapeutic Recreation Department.

Under the supervision of the Therapeutic Recreation Department, the children are afforded close contact with the residents. The innovative idea of bringing children and residents together, both for scheduled programs and spontaneously, has ultimately become part of the natural rhythm of the day.

Children bring noise‰ÛÓlaughter, screams and giggles‰ÛÓand their physical presence completely changes the atmosphere, injecting enthusiasm, energy and youthful excitement.

The objectives of the program are:

‰Û¢ To facilitate daily natural interactions between residents of the nursing home and the children.

‰Û¢ To utilize the entire Isabella campus as the children’s classroom.

‰Û¢ To provide therapeutic recreation for residents in the form of daily intergenerational activity. Residents can actively participate or passively observe.

‰Û¢ To stimulate the spontaneous feelings of nurturing and loving that older adults (despite disabilities) often feel-when the environment is conducive to such attention and caring.

‰Û¢ To create for children the non-threatening experience of being with individuals who are elderly and/or impaired, which will serve as a foundation for sensitized interaction with people, over the course of their lives.

Intergenerational activities are important to both the development of children and the quality of life of the nursing home residents. At the same time, residents are teaching the children about respect, understanding and celebrating other cultures.

Going a step further, using the format of a children’s board game, 43 offices, public areas, dining rooms, recreation rooms, etc. throughout the campus were renamed. The recreation suite was referred to as “Marshmallow Sky,” the 9th floor dining room was Chocolate Chip Jungle, the finance department was Caramel Swamp, and the beauty parlor was Mashed Potato Mountain, to name just a few. As the locations were renamed, the children ventured throughout the campus to share their enthusiasm with the residents, staff and visitors.

Rather than have story hour in the childcare center, the teachers and children would bring their books and magic carpets to RaisinRain Forest (the physical therapy gym) or have their snacks at Yum Yum Hill (the staff cafeteria).

Project NOISEE consists of five puzzle pieces-structured activities, scheduled programs, spontaneous playtime, special themed events and senior sharing sessions.

Following the therapeutic recreation assessment, the therapeutic recreation specialist ascertains which residents would be willing and would benefit from Senior Sharing Sessions-an opportunity for the resident to share his or her special skill with the children. There are several residents who “work” in the childcare center several hours during the week.

With residents and children increasingly sharing their environment and interacting with one another, acceptance and affection have blossomed.

It is clear that children who participate in an intergenerational program have more positive feelings towards older adults. At the same time, residents have something to look forward to and contribute to; activity is increased while loneliness and depression are decreased. Just as important, staff throughout Isabella say they feel uplifted by the children’s presence and the parents believe that being brought into more frequent contact with older people and individuals with special needs has had a positive and important impact on their children.

This program need not be limited to those in day care.

The Harvard School of Public Health-Met Life Foundation Initiative on Retirement and Civil Engagement had this to say about such ventures:

“Community based initiatives that bridge the generations should receive special attention. The programs build community by integrating the old with the young, transmitting knowledge and experience to future generations and reinforcing the value of people of all ages. Studies have found that young people in such programs show measurable improvements in school attendance, attitudes toward school and the future, and attitudes toward elders. Adult volunteers report substantial benefits to themselves: the satisfaction of sharing their experience, feeling useful. And giving back to the community.”

We have launched a test pilot intergenerational program with high school students. Our ‰ÛÏSenior to Senior‰Û program connects high school seniors and senior citizens through an exercise where the students interview older adults about their life, capture it in word and video and then virally share it.

Obviously the older adults love this because they want to share their story. What has been amazing to watch is how the preconceived notions of older people among some of the students (older folks are scary, dirty, etc) change immediately once they complete this exercise.

What has been frustrating is not being able to convince more schools to come on board.

Regardless, intergenerational programs are the future. Those in need of nursing home care for themselves or a loved one should look to facilities that are breaking the mold and offering the type of program Isabella and others offer.