Having worked with the elderly in various settings during my nursing career, I have always enjoyed listening to the stories they would share, looking at old photos, and hearing about what they used to do and how things used to be.
I began working in a care home for the first time six years ago and this became a bigger part of my working day. I strongly believe that to look after someone in the care home setting, it is essential that we get to learn as much as possible about the individual’s life and interests that they had before they were admitted to our home. This information is then used by all our staff to then ensure that the individual’s time with us is as enjoyable as it can be. Very early on I became aware of the impact that children visiting the home had on our residents, and how much the residents enjoyed watching children. The resident’s faces would light up, they would sing along and appear more engaged. Some children, however, could appear apprehensive in the care home setting which they knew little if, anything about.
This got me thinking that care homes can be a largely unknown place for the majority of people, especially the younger generations. Some people can find it difficult to share with friends that they have a relative in a home, while others feel that their children shouldn’t visit. This all reduces the support network that elderly people need, especially in this latter stage of their life, when friends and family are so important. It is so beneficial if residents have a lot of visitors and maintain their links with the community, even a short visit can have huge benefits.
After regularly observing the benefits of such interactions I wondered if there was a way that we could make care homes more appealing and part of the local community, at the same time as reducing some of the myths surrounding them.
My idea was to start by involving schools in the home in some way. My activity co-ordinator and I attended a Generations Working Together Meeting in August 2016 and we were both motivated to begin to take our ideas forward for an intergenerational project.
We approached both St Stephens Primary School and Blairgowrie High School to see if they would be interested in taking the idea on. Happily, both agreed that it would be good to be involved. Meetings followed and the projects began to evolve. Both were to be art based projects, and would be with residents of varying abilities.
Blairgowrie High School
The project with Blairgowrie High School would be with one 6th year pupil, (Kelsey) for her Advanced Higher Art course, along with the Principal Art Teacher.
Kelsey’s ideas were to meet with a group of ladies and reminisce about their youth. They were to gather a variety of comments that evoked those memories, along with their dates of birth, and then to create 3 large brightly coloured canvases using photography, printing, stencilling, painting, sewing, all put together with the involvement of the residents. Using the range of mediums to create this, and working in an intimate group, quickly generated many different conversations and tales of the ‘good old days’.
Some comments included: ‘I wasn’t allowed to paint my nails-father wouldn’t allow it’, ‘We always picked potatoes, strawberries & raspberries’ and ‘I wasn’t allowed out later than 9’ all a far cry from todays children, but it certainly stimulated the conversations.
Kelsey visited frequently throughout the school year. She worked with the same group, who all looked forward to seeing the final product.
Having been submitted for marking in her exams the canvases are now proudly on our wall, and everyone who passes takes time to read them. These have definitely become a talking point in the home.
St Stephens Primary School
St Stephens Primary School project was to be entirely different from the High School. This project would be with a group of pupils from P6 &7, along with the Art Teacher. This was going to be part of the school’s work in attaining the Pope Francis Award.
As this involved younger children, and could be quite daunting for them, we started by having ‘getting to know you’ sessions. This involved the children, along with the Art and Head teacher coming along in the afternoon and spending time with the residents.
They played games in groups one week and sang for the residents, and another week the children read stories that they had written. This all helped to make the children feel comfortable coming into the home and quickly there was good interaction between the children and the residents.
The art project for the Primary School was to involve a group of residents and a group of children. The plan was again one of reminiscence using local landmarks and wildlife as the topics, to create one large canvas by printing, rolling, collage and painting. The residents helped with all parts and thoroughly enjoyed the process.
This canvas also has a prominent position to show off our resident’s work.
Everyone involved in the process of doing this has benefited. The children all feel comfortable coming into the home and working with the residents. The residents enjoy spending time with the children and doing something different. Even those residents who are less able managed to take part and some who could not be physically involved enjoyed sitting on the side-lines watching and listening.
We are to continue working with both schools in the coming year with new projects and are also meeting up with a local nursery school to plan a way to involve them in our home.
The benefits of this initiative to all who took part cannot be underestimated. Initially I thought if we can change the way that one person sees a care home or lift the spirits of one resident then it is worth it. The gains of this project have been much more far reaching for all involved, and I cannot thank those involved enough for working with us. We look forward to many future projects and building these links further.
Beech Manor, Blairgowrie.
If you want to learn more about adding meaning to activity, you might want to consider DSDC's Making Activity Meaningful for People with Dementia course.